The girls’ volleyball team is looking to return to the tournament.
It’s been three years since the girls’ volleyball team at Whitman-Hanson Regional High has made it to the tournament.
This season’s group wants to change that, and first-year head coach Samantha Richner is up for the challenge. A 2013 W-H alum, Richner played four years for the Panthers.
“[Coaching] is something I have always wanted to do, and to do it in the program I was once a part makes it even more special,” Richner said. “I think I bring a different energy to the team than there was in past years.”
Richner inherited a program on the up, doubling its win total from four to eight last fall under then-head coach Ashley Balbian.
“My main message to the girls is that it is up to them what they get out of this season,” Richner said. “I believe this team has the talent and the potential to go far. I try and help them realize that, and to also realize that they need to put in the appropriate and required time and effort to get the results they want.”
Seniors Lexi Connolly and Olivia Martin return as captains to anchor the club, while classmate Maya Faich also serves as captain. Richner said they’ve made her transition seamless.
“To prepare myself for the season, I frequently reached out to the captains, who have been amazing, to see where the program was at, what they wanted to change, what they thought should stay the same,” Richner said. “I realize how important this sport is to these girls.”
Connolly, a four-year varsity player, who posted 103 digs and played in all 52 sets last season, starts at outside hitter and can also play the back row.
“Lexi is a crucial part of our team; she is such a well-rounded player,” Richner said. “Lexi is someone I know I can count on the get the job done, and I am sure the team feels the same way.”
A three-year varsity players, Olivia Martin (41 sets played last season) starts at right side hitter.
“Liv is a great player to have on the team and because of her we are able to have three strong front row hitters on the court at the same time; which is a huge advantage,” Richner said.
Faich, who racked up 81 digs last autumn, takes over at libero following the graduation of Kylie Gervasio.
“Maya is willing to do about anything to get a ball; she is such a selfless player,” Richner said. “Maya is an athlete who puts in the work year round, and she is one of our strongest players because of it.”
Sophomore setters Abby Martin and Lily Welch, junior setters Caileen Hurley (119 assists last season) and Sophia Berardinelli and senior hitter Marissa Connell will also be pivotal the team’s success this season.
And Richner said in order to obtain success, it starts with having the right attitude.
“You have to have a competitive mentality,” said the coach. “You also have to have a learning mentality; we have to be able to learn and grow from or mistakes to make ourselves better.”
The Panthers return to the court Friday, Sept. 20 at 5 p.m. at Plymouth South.
“Our goal this season it to make it tournament,” Richner said. “I met with the captains last spring and they expressed to me that this was their goal for this season. I believe, without a doubt, that we have the talent to do that. For right now, our focus is to fine-tune our skills, and then we will take it from there.”
*This story will run in the Express’ print edition on Thursday, Sept. 26.