The Nantucket varsity volleyball team made the MIAA Div. 4 state quarterfinal for the first time in program history last year and with the team returning players such as senior captain and outside hitter Chloe Marrero as well as junior captain and all-state libero Viktoria Todorova, head coach Andrew Viselli is hoping his team can build on last year’s success with a difficult schedule on tap this season.
“We have some talented returning players and I think we have some really eager people coming in to fill shoes or step into a larger varsity role,” he said. “I really believe it comes down to the merging of those two and figuring out how do we get those other kids up to speed? I can’t slow down the others. I need to bring the others up to speed. So that will be the challenge and it is going to be fun. It’s going to be fun for all of us.”
The Whalers scrimmaged Andover High School Tuesday afternoon – completing five sets against the Div. 1 powerhouse that was the #6 seed in the Div. 1 bracket last year and eventually making it all the way to the state quarterfinals. They finished the regular season with a 13-3 record and a 15-4 record overall.
“D1, good competition,” Viselli said. “For me it’s really important to me that Andover has a really rich history of volleyball – excellence. That is important. That is a team that understands what the goal is and that is to win a state championship year in and year out because the bar has been set by the girls before them. Each coach is a steward of that. We are still building. But it was a great scrimmage and nice team bonding experience. It was good for our team to see that level of focus, chemistry, and commitment.”
The Whalers lost two key starters from last year’s team including outside hitter Kacey Riseborough and captain Kalina Natcheva, both of which are playing volleyball in college. Viselli said replacing Natcheva will be the toughest challenge.
“With Kalina it's who do we get to replace her and the answer is nobody because you can't,” he said. “So who do we get to put on the court who can learn and grow and make as few errors, but continue to enjoy the process and want to work to get better each and every day? And there's three or four girls that are in that position right now.”
Viselli said Leah Crowley, Alice O’Banion, and Rihanna Cranston are three players he believes will see expanded roles this season. He said it is his job to adapt to the roster he has at his disposal this year and play to the strengths and weaknesses of this year’s team that may be different from previous seasons.
“Each team is a new puzzle and as a coach you have to figure it out,” Viselli said. “I have what I like to do but if you don't have a team that can do that, then you have to pivot and do something completely different. If I'm unwilling to do that, then I suck as a coach. If I'm like ‘This is my system and we all must fit in the system,’ then I'm not a good coach. So I have to figure it out and where they are. There's some glimpses of it. That's the gift of a scrimmage right now is we got to see immediately the communication problems, movement problems, who is in shape, who is mentally strong, who is mentally clear, who has self confidence in terms of playing volleyball, and who needs to have some more wind put in their sails?”
The Whalers went 16-1 in the regular season last year and 18-2 overall. This year it will be tough to replicate that success in the win/loss column with a schedule jam-packed with high-end programs Viselli is hoping will help this team be battle-tested and much improved come state tournament time.
The Whalers begin their season at home on Sunday, September 3 with a tri-match. They will play the Nauset Warriors that day but also go up against Frontier Regional High School, who won the Div. 5 state championship last season and finished the year 23-1.
On September 11 the Whalers travel to Bridgewater to play the Div. 1 Bridgewater-Raynham Trojans. They will host BR for a rematch on September 18.
On September 20 the Whalers travel to the Cape to take on the Barnstable Red Hawks, who were the #5 seed in the Div. 1 state tournament last year and made it to the state semifinals. They will host Barnstable later in the year for a rematch on October 23.
On September 27 the Whalers travel to Dennis-Yarmouth to take on the Dolphins. DY was the #1 seed in the Div. 3 state tournament last year and nearly won the state title before losing to Tewksbury in the championship match. Nantucket will host DY for a rematch on October 16.
On October 7 the Whalers will host Nipmuc Regional High School. Nipmuc finished last season with a 19-1 record – earning themselves the #4 seed in the Div. 4 state tournament. Nipmuc lost in the state quarterfinals to Weston 3-2.
On October 21 the Whalers will travel to Duxbury to take on the Dragons. Duxbury went undefeated last season (19-0) and earned the #3 seed in the Div. 2 state tournament. The Dragons were stunned in the state quarterfinals however against #6 Melrose, 3-1.
“It's a brand-new year and we're going to understand the work that needs to go into it but we're also going to take care of ourselves physically and mentally,” Viselli said. “The health and wellness of my volleyball team is at the forefront and with that will come the successes. It’s not necessarily wins and losses. It's the personal successes that they're going to line up for themselves. That's really where I am in terms of what I care about right now.”
You can access the full schedule by clicking here.