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Sacred Heart's catch phrase this season: Unfinished business

Emily Barry #16 and her Sacred Heart Academy

Emily Barry #16 and her Sacred Heart Academy teammates react after taking a point in the second set of a CHSAA varsity girls volleyball match against host St. John the Baptist High School in West Islip on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017. Credit: James Escher

Sacred Heart lost to Kellenberg in last fall’s CHSAA championship despite one of its best seasons in recent memory, but coach Emily Butler views it as an accomplishment. With returning starters and reinforcements on the way, the Spartans are ready for victory.

Game MVPs from Sacred Heart brandish toy swords and don costume helmets, channeling their inner warriors. Butler introduced that last season as a way to motivate her players.

The motivation now is to unseat Kellenberg, the three-time defending league champs, and the Spartans have the pieces to do it.

“I think we’re certainly not the underdogs anymore,” Butler said. “I think we have some unfinished business from last year. We obviously talked about it in great detail at the end of last season. ‘Unfinished business’ is the phrase we keep using.”

Emily Barry, a New Haven commit, and Olivia DeJesus, who Butler says is garnering Division I interest, return as the key hitters. Setter Riley Leimbach runs the show. Freshmen Anna Cahill and Haley Leimbach, Riley’s sister, are expected to make contributions as well.

Junior Kayla Martello is making the transition from middle to outside hitter out of necessity, but also because she fits the mold of a middle.

“She’s an incredible athlete,” Butler said. “She’s actually a lacrosse player first, a volleyball player second. We were looking for athleticism and height up at the net. Someone who can pick up on different things that we’re trying easily.”

Kellenberg returns just one starter – middle hitter Colleen Moulder – after defeating Sacred Heart, 3-1, in November. Senior libero Alyssa Pugh is stepping into her first season as a starter, but the Firebirds are relatively inexperienced compared to previous rosters.

St. Anthony’s could always be a threat under the direction of coach Donna Newman, and both Holy Trinity and St. John the Baptist have exciting individual talents.

Only Sacred Heart appears to have everything in place for a title run, though. Add in new assistant coach Lauren Dunne, who played collegiately with Butler at LIU Post, and Sacred Heart is poised to dominate.

There could be a new CHSAA champion this November.

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