Category Archives: Volleyball

Volleyball Preview

by Sean Begin

In April of this year, Central Connecticut volleyball announced the signing of four new players to National Letters of Intent, to replace departing seniors Amalia Ashley and Veronika Ban and freshman Katie Wirth.

Lindsey Massicotte and Emma Schissel, both from Connecticut, join as defensive specialists with Nicole Celarek (from Illinois) and Maddie Smith (from California) looking to fill an already strong front court.

“We wanted to integrate the freshmen into our system rather quickly,” said head coach Linda Sagnelli. “And with so many players returning it was really easy to do.”

This preseason saw Sagnelli and assistant coach Greg Shell implement a different playing system that takes advantage of their new additions as well as the growing skills of returning players.

Last season, the team ran a 5-1 system: five hitters on the court with one setter controlling the floor; then-sophomore and captain Makenna Lommori served as the team’s only setter.

This year they moved to a 6-2: six hitters on the court with rotating setters running the offense. The setter plays from the back court, coming forward to the net when setting, allowing for three hitters to play up front.

Junior Ashley Lenington will move into the second setter role and play opposite of Lommori, who will now have time to focus on hitting for three rotations, a strength of her’s Sagnelli had been unable to take advantage of previously.

“Makenna is a very strong hitter,” said Sagnelli, “but we’ve never had the luxury to have her hit.”

Central will return several strong defensive players to their front court, including senior and fellow captain Rachel Dunlap, sophomore Brooke Schwab and junior Heather Trueman, who had a breakout season last year as one of the team’s best outside hitters.

In addition, senior Brittany Schumacher and sophomore Rachel Fish return as defensive specialists and liberos, providing solid defense in the back court.

The new system, combined with the team’s depth, allows for Sagnelli and Shell to pick and choose when to insert a player into a match, and to try and take advantage of an opposing team’s weakness.

As with all new things, though, there does come a learning curve.

“With the new system it takes time. I don’t think we can expect the kids to run it at 100 percent,” said Sagnelli. “Sometimes in competition things happen and [you can go] ‘Oh yeah so this is what we do when that happens.’”

The team has had time to get together before the season began, however. The freshmen arrived in late June for summer classes alongside the returning players, offering the chance to build a relationship before hitting the court.

“I think they’ve settled in really nicely. We’re asking them to do a lot of different things,” said Sagnelli of the freshmen class.

“A lot of times they come in and we change things that they’re doing and sometimes they go through a learning curve and I think that’s been like that for them this year. But they respond very quickly, they implement changes very quickly. And they have just bought right in to what we do.”

Central opened the season at the UConn Invitational, facing off against teams at or near not just Central’s RPI but league rival LIU-Brooklyn. (RPI is a ranking that takes into account a team’s win-loss record as well as the strength of the schedule they play.)

The Blue Devils played Indiana, New Hampshire and UConn in that tournament, losing to all three but pushing both UNH and UConn to five sets, forcing the fifth set against UConn after being down 2-0.

“We were not upset with our play over the weekend at UConn,” said Sagnelli, saying these early games are to be used as a learning period before the Northeast Conference season gets under way, especially with the new system in place and with the freshmen still overcoming their own learning curve.

“Our goal is to win the conference and LIU has been our obstacle,” she added.

LUI-Brooklyn has defeated Central the past two years in the NEC championship game and looks poised to repeat for a third straight year, unanimously picked by the NEC coaches to win it all. Central was picked second.

“We wanted to play teams that were comparable to or better than Long Island early so we can start to gauge things on what we need to work on,” said Sagnelli. “And most certainly the UConn’s, the Indiana’s, the Santa Clara’s, Harvard, they’re all going to be very tough teams, so we’re happy with what we’ve seen so far.”

Central played Santa Clara and Harvard, as well as Delaware, at the Harvard Invitational this past weekend, dropping all three games. They will head to Brown this weekend for a tournament before returning home next weekend for their own Blue Devil Invitational.

In addition to the new system, Central is awaiting the return of two players. Sophomores Cassidy Stankowski (who started for the team last year) and Nicole Dean are making their way back from injury and look ready to return to the team fully by the end of September, according to Sagnelli.

“The comfort level will keep going up and up and up as we play in [the new system] a little longer. We can see very good things,” said Sagnelli. “We just have to get that comfort level up there and I think it starts to run on all cylinders after that.”

The team also earned the American Volleyball Coaches Association Team Academic Award for the eighth straight season, posting a team GPA of 3.3.

“I give all the credit to them because they’re the ones who are sitting in the classrooms, they’re getting the work done and being responsible. Everywhere we travel they’re bringing their work,” said Sagnelli. “They have downtime too but they’re very efficient in getting their work done. That’s why they’re so successful.”

Volleyball Adds Depth with 2018 Recruits

by Sean Begin

When Central Connecticut volleyball takes the court again in the fall, it’ll be without the presence of seniors Veronika Ban and Amalia Ashley. They will, however, feature four freshman recently signed by head Coach Linda Sagnelli, all of whom add depth to a team fresh off its second straight conference finals appearance.

“Our program has a high standard for athletic and academic success, and we are proud of the academic and athletic performance of  this incoming class,” said Sagnelli in a statement released through the athletic department.

Sagnelli adds two local athletes in Emma Schissel, of Colchester, and Lindsey Massicotte, of Meriden, as well as Maddie Smith, from Pleasanton, Calif., and Nicole Celarek, of Bensenville, Ill.

According to Sagnelli, of the three, Celarek is the most likely to see significant time in the starting lineup as an outside hitter, playing from the right side to complement current sophomore Heather Trueman.

“We were looking for a freshman to come in who would get playing time and start, be an impact freshman, kind of like all the freshman we just had,” said Sagnelli. “With that, it looks like Nicole is going to come in and really contribute right away.”

A four year member of her Fenton High School varsity volleyball squad, Celarek also plays for the Sports Performance Volleyball Club team, which Sagnelli calls one of the best club teams in the country. Celarek, at six-foot-two, will bring added height and size to the Blue Devil frontcourt.

“We really wanted to get a little more physical in the frontcourt, and she definitely brings that physicality to the game,” said Sagnelli. “Nicole comes in already possessing good strength. We know she’ll get stronger when she gets into college and matures a little bit.”

Schissel and Massicotte, both from Connecticut, will come in as defensive players, adding depth to the defensive specialist position, with Schissel also working with the setters and Massicotte with the liberos.

Schissel played for Bacon Academy during high school, and will slot in behind current sophomores Makenna Lommori and Ashley Lenington during her freshman season.

“She’s going to provide good depth,” said Sagnelli of Schissel. “I think she has some training to do. She’ll go with the setters and get the setter training. But she’ll also go with our backcourt crew when they’re going in for their reception reps and passing reps. So she’ll be doing both.”

Massicotte earned All-Conference honors while playing for her Maloney High School team each of the past three seasons. With Amalia Ashley graduating, Massicotte will add depth to the position currently filled by freshman Rachel Fish and junior Brittany Schumacher.

“We always like to have three [liberos] on the team because it really makes you strong in that backcourt position,” said Sagnelli. “Lindsey is going to come in and push for playing time right away.

Added Sagnelli: “I think she’s got a very solid base right now, fundamentally. She really needs to fine-tune some of the skills. But she’s going to jump in; her feet are going to hit the ground running.  She will most certainly provide great depth to the backcourt crew.”

Sagnelli has said previously that club volleyball competition in the northeast is comparably weaker than in other areas of the country, such as in Texas or on the West Coast. But Sagnelli calls the addition of two local athletes “incredibly important.”

“Having Connecticut athletes on the team really ties everything together,” said Sagnelli. “We would love to be able to take the top players in Connecticut every year. We’re very fortunate with Lindsey and Emma committing to us and deciding to come to Central.”

Sagnelli’s final recruit, Maddie Smith, adds another player to a pool of starters that hail from California and nearby West Coast states. Smith joins Lenington, Trueman and junior Rachel Dunlap, as well as departing senior Veronika Ban, as Blue Devil recruits from the Golden State.

Lommori, from Nevada, and freshman Brooke Schwab, from Oregon, round out the West Coast recruits Sagnelli has brought to New Britain the past few years.

Smith, like Schissel and Massicotte, will spend time behind established starters as she begins her freshman year. At five-foot-eleven, she will play the middle blocker position behind Dunlap and Schwab, honing her skills in her first collegiate season.

“She’s got a great vertical jump,” said Sagnelli. “She’s going to be playing behind Rachel and Brooke, but what two great role models to have. And she’s going to be working very hard. We’ll actually have four people working in the middle because Nicole Dean will be working in the middle a little bit. Maddie solidifies that position.”

In addition to Dunlap, Schwab and Smith, Celarek and current freshman Nicole Dean will see time at middle blocker, providing Sagnelli and assistant coach Greg Shell with strong depth at the position.

“We wanted to make sure with our outsides, with our middle, with our right sides, that we didn’t have any weaknesses,” said Sagnelli. “And we feel very strongly going into next season that we’re deep… and that only helps the team.”

Each of the recruits is seeing time at their positions on their club teams, providing valuable experience before arriving at Central in August. Both Massicotte and Smith were competing at a recent tournament in Philadelphia that Sagnelli and Shell were recruiting at.

All the recruits, with Celarek perhaps being the exception, will have time this coming season to continue their development as players. Sagnelli hopes they follow in the footsteps of Trueman, who emerged this past season as an All-Conference outside hitter after brief playing time her freshman year.

“She had that year to put strength on, technically fine-tune everything, get up to the speed of the college game. It helped her tremendously,” said Sagnelli of Trueman.

Sagnelli expects each recruit to have a shot at seeing playing time, with Celarek most certain of the four  to make it into the lineup.

“They come in with a good level of talent that if we need to, some of them  are going to be getting in there and fighting for a spot right away,” said Sagnelli.

That level of competition, though, should only serve to bring the best out of the players already on the team.


Volleyball Falls In NEC Championship Match

by Sean Begin
Brooklyn, New York –
For the Central Connecticut volleyball team, a successful season ended with a difficult defeat at the hands of Long Island University-Brooklyn last Sunday in the Northeast Conference Championship game at Long Island.

The Blue Devils (21-9) fell in straight sets to the Blackbirds (23-7) by scores of 25-12, 25-19 and 25-14, who finished an unbeaten season in the NEC. It was Central’s third loss to LIU this season.

“We knew we were the underdog coming in here but we weren’t thinking that way,” said Coach Linda Sagnelli. “I told my athletes not to hang their heads because the work that they put in… nothing should take away everything that they’ve done this season.”
The loss ends what was otherwise a successful season for Central women’s volleyball. After opening the season losing five of the first seven games, the Blue Devils ran off a string of seven wins.
Following losses to LIU and Saint Francis Brooklyn, Central would go on another winning streak, this time of ten games, which was ended with the teams’ second loss of the season to Long Island.

“When you reflect back on the season that we had, we’ve done a lot of things right,” said Sagnelli. “They come in day in and day out and they’re ready to learn, they’re ready to give 100 percent effort all the time.”

The team was led in the match by senior Veronika Ban, who had nine kills and three service aces in the final game of her college career. Freshman Cassidy Stankowski added seven kills of her own to go along with seven digs, a team high. Sophomore Makenna Lommori assisted in 23 Blue Devil kills.

Central could not anything going offensively against the Blackbirds, who stifled the Blue Devil attack all game, blocking 10 shots as a team. The Blue Devils pushed Long Island in the second set with three straight aces on Ban’s serve but it proved to not be enough. Central held the lead only three times in the match.

“We got outplayed,” said Sagnelli following the loss. “We simply met a Long Island team today that was just playing a better version of volleyball. They executed better than we did today.”
Central came into the game feeling “phenomenal,” according to Sagnelli. A three set sweep of Sacred Heart University in the semi-final match seemed to boost the confidence of the team heading into Sunday’s championship match.

“I don’t want this [loss] to detract from what we did in the semi-final match,” said Sagnelli. “It’s always kind of dangerous when you’re playing a team you’ve beaten twice. I thought we executed and outplayed Sacred Heart.”
Despite the bitterness of the loss, the team is young, only fielding two upper classmen in the starting rotation for most of the season, and has much to take away from the championship loss.

“You have to remember today but you can’t let it consumer you,” Sagnelli said of her message to her team. “You’ve got to remember the good you’ve done. We just take this as a learning experience, as a day that can make us a little tougher as we go forward.”
Central seems poised to compete in the NEC for the next several years. They were ranked third in the NEC polls prior to this season in which many of the starters were freshman or sophomores and should see a similar ranking next season.

“Being in this environment is only going to add to the experience of a young team,” said Sagnelli. “Hopefully, we’ll have the chance next year to have another shot at claiming a conference championship.”


Central Volleyball Splits Weekend Games

By Sean Begin
With a spot in the Northeast Conference tournament already secure, the only impact the weekend’s games meant for the volleyball team was seeding.
Wins over Long Island University-Brooklyn and Saint Francis-Brooklyn, coupled with an LIU loss to Bryant on Sunday, would secure the number one seed for Central in the NEC tournament.
Central (20-8, 11-3 NEC) finished the regular season by recording their 20th win of the season in a 3-0 sweep over Saint Francis-Brooklyn (7-25, 3-11 NEC) on Sunday.
“That was one of our goals, to get the win today. We wanted to have this as a 20 win season and they accomplished that goal which is awesome,” said Coach Linda Sagnelli.
But a 3-0 loss to Long Island (21-7, 14-0 NEC) on Saturday ended the Blue Devils’ chances at bringing the tournament home.
“I think we were in a fog,” said Sagnelli. “We got a little too amped up for that game and it drained them [the players] emotionally when the game actually came.”
The loss snapped Central’s 10-game winning streak and ended their perfect record at home.
Central’s offense struggled against the Blackbirds, recording just 27 kills as a team, led by sophomore Heather Trueman’s 11, hitting just .129 as a team. Sophomore Makenna Lommori assisted on all of Central’s kills
“We had a couple mistakes here and there but when you’re playing against a team that makes very few mistakes, you can’t make more than they make. And that’s what happened,” said Sagnelli.
The loss ensured that the NEC tournament will be held at LIU this weekend, with CCSU taking the second seed overall, and that Sunday’s game against Saint Francis-Brooklyn would have no postseason impact.
Central and SFBK spent the majority of the match on Sunday exchanging points, but the Blue Devils managed to find just enough offense to get the win.
“We had a hard time finding our rhythm early on and our passing was a little inconsistent,” said Sagnelli. “We found just enough rhythm to be able to do what we needed to do today.”
Trueman and freshman Cassidy Stankowski led Central’s offense against the Terriers. Trueman recorded 15 kills on 23 attacks with no errors, posting a huge .652 hitting percentage. Stankowski added 14 kills of her own.
Seven players recorded an assist in the match led by 33 from Lommori, who also posted five kills and three digs. Freshman Rachel Fish led the team with 11 digs.
Central now sets its sights on the NEC tournament this weekend. The Blue Devils will face Sacred Heart University in the semifinals on Saturday while LIU will play Robert Morris University in the other semifinal.
“We have to focus on whomever we’re playing,” said Sagnelli, adding “As coaches we prepare for both [the final and semifinal] but for the team we really prepare them more for the semifinal match because without winning that one there is no finals.”


Volleyball Extends Win Streak

By Sean Begin

The Central Connecticut volleyball team extended their Northeast Conference win streak to eight games on Saturday with a 3-1 victory over Bryant University.
The win was the second by Central (17-7, 8-2 NEC) over Bryant (8-21, 3-7 NEC) this season and extended the Blue Devils unbeaten record at Detrick Gym.
“The team chemistry has grown so much after a bad weekend when we opened up [NEC play] in the New York City schools and started 0-2,” said Coach Linda Sagnelli. “We did a lot of reflecting and changed a bunch of things and it’s worked ever since.”
The two losses that weekend are the only losses for Central in the last 17 games but Sagnelli says those losses “did more good for this team than anything else.”
The Blue Devils were led by sophomore Heather Trueman, who recorded a career high 20 kills with just two errors hitting .429 for the match.
“She had an outstanding performance. Today is why we had her working on hitting the line [in practice],” said Sagnelli. “She’s becoming a more complete outside hitter as these weeks go by. It’s going to happen where one day Heather becomes one of the best outside hitters in the conference.”
The Blue Devils won the final two sets of the match by scores of 25-9 and 25-17. Central outscored Bryant 16-8 in the final set to win after the Bulldogs had come back to tie the match at nine.
The Blue Devils opened the third set with eight straight points after dropping the second match 25-21. Central was down by as many as seven points in the second set and managed to pull to within one of tying the Bulldogs.
“We sat back. I think we lost mental focus, mental toughness,” said Sagnelli. “Everything that we talk about and try and maintain, we lost it.”
“In between [sets], I said here’s a great opportunity for you to regain that [focus] now because we’re going to be in tough situations as we go forward,” added Sagnelli of her team’s third set turnaround.
The Blue Devils had easily taken the first set 25-10 before going down to Bryant 12-5 to start the second set.
Central was led defensively by freshmen Cassidy Stankowski and Rachel Fish who recorded 15 and 10 digs, respectively. Junior Rachel Dunlap led the team with six block assists. Sophomore Makenna Lommori finished with a team-high 40 assists.
The Blue Devils will hit the road this weekend for two games against. They play at Sacred Heart on Saturday, Nov. 9 and at Farleigh Dickinson Sunday, Nov. 10.
“We have to prepare a lot going into Sacred Heart and FDU. Sacred Heart is very tough to play in their gym,” said Sagnelli. “We’ll be watching a lot of film this week on Sacred Heart and FDU.”
Central wraps up the regular season the following weekend at home against Saint Francis-Brooklyn and LIU-Brooklyn, the only two conference teams to beat them this season.


Student-Athletes Reach Out

By Paige Brown

Student athletes all around campus are becoming more involved in the community. The teams are working with groups locally and nationally to help in all different ways.

The CCSU student-athlete community outreach program is reaching all mediums of volunteerism, from reading to elementary children to hosting matches to raise awareness for breast cancer.

“We get a lot of calls from around the state asking for our student-athletes to be involved,” said Molly McCarthy, Assistant Athletic Director for Compliance & Student Services. “The word got out that our students were interested.”

McCarthy manages the daily calls that come in from all different groups and organizations asking for the athletes to be involved and help out. She strives to accommodate every group that asked for involvement by giving ideas to coaches and keeping up continuing relationships that they have made.

“Some community outreach that we will do will be one-time shots, because it’s a one-time event,” she explained, “but what were really trying to do is not just that, but develop real relationships with groups.”

One group that the women’s basketball team has developed a relationship with is Urban Oaks Organic Farm, a non-profit in New Britain. They spend an hour and a half clearing the field and setting up for the farmers market.

Interval House, a domestic violence shelter in Hartford. is another long-developed relationship that the athletes have made over almost three and a half years. The men’s basketball team regularly visits and helps clean the facility and do activities with the children.

Along with the basketball teams, the men’s and women’s golf teams, the volleyball team and even the swim team are becoming more involved in community outreach. On Friday, November 1, the swim team hosted the New Britain Boys and Girls Club for a swim clinic.

“We do that a few times a year and also send other teams over there just to participate, whether its basketball or reading or just shooting pool, just to bridge that gap,” said McCarthy, referring the Boys and Girls Club.

The women’s golf team has taken part in the First Tee of Connecticut in Cromwell, Conn., a youth development organization that utilizes golf.

Gina Grant of the women’s golf team explained, “they usually have sessions once a week with the kids that we’re able to go to for like an hour to two hours just working with the kids, playing with them. We use snag equipment, which is just oversized golf equipment that makes it easier for them to play.”

Grant, a senior at CCSU, enjoys playing with the kids and teaching them how to take shots. “They really love golf. We play a lot of games and they have a lot of fun. It’s good,” she said.

The men’s golf team also spends their weekends with kids, reading to them at a local school in New Britain.

“We read to the fourth graders at Lincoln Elementary School,” said Jack Ayers, sophomore on the men’s golf team. “We get there on Friday mornings and hang out with the kids and then we read a chapter of a book every week.”

All of the players on the team participate in interacting with the kids as well as the coach. The players and the kids enjoy the time they spend together and Ayers likes building the small relationships with each of them.

“I’m fortunate enough to work with my coach, Monte Mullen,” said Ayers. “We work in the ESL class (English as a Second Language) and they are kind of a tough group of kids. It’s good to build strong relationships with them and there are some kids there who need help and that’s what we’re there for.”

The volleyball team has participated in multiple outreach programs, from hosting the Dig Pink Match to raise awareness for breast cancer to helping set up and participate in walks on and off campus.

Veronica Bann, senior volleyball player, is happy to help out the community and be involved in all different events.

“We helped out the Connecticut Children’s Hospital in the Spring and we all went and signed little volleyballs and posters and interacted with the children,” she said, “they seemed to really enjoy it and we really enjoyed it as well.”

Bann explained that the volleyball team has volunteered for the March of Dimes, setting up stations and cheering on the runners and walkers. “It was fun,” she said, “We had bubbles and chalk and little fun activities for the walkers to do.”

Along with the March of Dimes, they participated in an MS walk. She explained that there is a staff member at CCSU who is very involved in the team whose husband has MS, so they supported him by walking.

The CCSU Athletic department works with the city of New Britain closely to help the children in the community make and keep goals for their future.

McCarthy stated, “In a couple weeks, we will be having students from the New Britain Truancy Project come onto campus, there is a large truancy problem apparently in New Britain. We are bringing some middle school students onto campus to try to engage with our student-athletes to show them what college is like.”

They hope to teach the children that going to college and even becoming a college level athlete can be a potential goal.

The outreach programs are starting to span not only to local groups and organizations, but national and annual events, such as the National Girls and Women in Sports Day.

On January 26, the CCSU athletic department hosted a free clinic for young female athletes to come to CCSU and learn from athletes from women’s soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, softball and golf.

“There were kids ranging from three to ten and we had every sports team do a different event,” said Bann. “Girl’s soccer had little goalies and the girls could make tow teams and they would play soccer and we had a little drill for volleyball and would teach them how to pass and set…it was really fun getting the girls involved in sports and getting them to be active.”

Tommy Meade, Assistant Communication and Media Services Director, explained that this was their second year hosting the National Girls and Women in Sports Day at CCSU.

“It’s been a pretty successful thing. We always get a pretty good turnout,” said Meade. “A lot of young ladies come out from around the area. The entire purpose of the event is to promote women in athletics and all of the positive things that are associated with women in athletics whether it’s confidence or good grades or any of those positive attributes that you would get being involved in that type of thing. They are trying to get them involved at a young age.”

The overall idea of the community outreach program is to get student-athletes involved in helping out within their community. Not only do the groups and organizations like having them there to help, but also the athletes love doing it.

Ayers hopes him and his team will start doing more service to the community in the future. “It really brings our teams together and its fun helping out. You feel good about yourself.”