BY GREG KLEIN
The Cooperstown Central School volleyball coach refuses to call this season a rebuilding year. “This is a bridge team,” Coach Rich Jantzi said. “I tell them that all the time. We had about a four-year run where we were the top dog, one of the best teams in the area, and now we have to work our way back there. I don’t want to call it a rebuilding year because we’re not going to be a 2-12 team. The talent we have coming up is pretty significant. I just don’t want them to think we can walk out there and go 15-0.”
The Redskins went 15-3 last year, 9-2 in the Center State Conference Division II and lost to Tully 3-2 in the Section Three C-1 finals last season. It was their third trip to the finals in four years, which included a title in 2009.
Last year’s final was a heartbreaker as the team led Tully 2-0 before losing the final three games and the match. However, the biggest losses were off the court, to graduation. Sarah Dewey, the Class C player of the year, and a four-year starter is gone. So is Class C All-Star Laura Harmon, starters Emily Senif and Catriona Buchanon and three other seniors.
According to Jantzi, that doesn’t mean that Cooperstown is without strong players this season.
“We have lost two of the best players that the program has had in Sarah Dewey and Laura Harmon,” Jantzi said, “and I still think we will be fine. We are returning three girls who have a lot of game experience.”
Senior captain Shannon Mc- Mannus and junior captain Katie Booan are expected to lead the way for the Redskins this season. Jantzi said that Booan, the team’s setter, has been the early force in motivating her teammates.
“My setter, she played every point of every game last year, I think,” he said. “Maybe I sat her down for a minute or two in the playoffs. She wanted to win last year so bad; she was so disappointed when we lost. She wants to take us back there this year. You can see it every day in practice. She is leading her teammates and pushing them. She wants to carry them back there.” To get there, however, the younger and more inexperienced players will have to play a role.
“Volleyball isn’t like some sports where one talented played can save you.” Jantzi said. “We need all six kids to play defense. You have to be a team out there, and that’s what we push. You have to be accountable to your teammates.”
Seniors Emily Carson, Caitlin Breier and Haley Hohenee will be likely starters this season and play a significant role in the team’s success. Breier played agreat deal of time last season, and Carson and Hohensee have grown into strong role players, according to Jantzi. Two senior exchange students, Paola Nunez from Bolivia and Nicole daSilva from Brazil, will also have a chance to start. Behind those players is a solid group of younger players who will have their own strong seasons in the future, according to the coach. Jantzi said he is also excited about some of the younger players, who will play on the modified team.
Besides the issues with replacing two of the top players in team history, this year’s Redskins are on the short side for a volleyball team.
“We’re not the tallest team, that’s for sure. I do think we will be the fittest. That’s a point of pride with me, given my background,” said Jantzi, whose “day job” is as a health, fitness and racquet instructor at the Clark Sports Center.
He said that defense and serving will also be big strengths for the team. Receiving serve and teamwork will be the biggest areas for the team to develop, he said. With only three girls having had significant playing time on last year’s team, experience and bench depth will also have to be developed this season, according to Jantzi.
Section Three is now the only one in the state still playing winter volleyball. That means the section final is the title game, and there are no state playoffs.
“There’s good and bad to it,” Jantzi said. “Those of us that are left are going to continue playing in the winter until they tell us we can’t. Most of us would lose our programs if we moved to the fall. Maybe Class B schools and the bigger ones can do it, but the small schools, we would lose girls to soccer and the other sports.”
So the winter season isn’t going to change for now, but the Redskins’ division has changed. Gone are powerhouse Mt. Markham as well as Canastota and Sherburne-Earlville. The new division will pair Cooperstown with Sauquoit Valley, Westmoreland, Waterville, Hamilton and Morrisville-Eaton.
“Mt. Markham, they always seem to get the better of us,” Jantzi said. “We have finished second to them in the division it seems like every year. This year we have a legitimate shot.”
Mt. Markham is still on the schedule, however, as is powerhouse Dolgeville, both in nonleague games. The team will play in the Dolgeville Tournament Saturday and the South Lewis Tournament the next weekend. Cooperstown will also host its own tournament the last weekend of January.
The season itself began Monday with a scrimmage against Herkimer. The first game will be at Little Falls tonight.
Given all the loses from last season, Jantzi said there could be some growing pains, especially with the tough early schedule, but he is still optimistic.
“Absolutely, we’re going to be in the conversation. It will help if we don’t get too far behind. We have a couple of winnable games early, but we also have a couple of big teams to face in Dolgeville and Mt. Markham,” he said.
“We have been a big program since before I got here and in the 10 years that I have been the (varsity) coach. I like to build my kids as players as students. They all know that the ultimate goal iswinning, but that’s not all that’s important.”
“I give my kids all I’ve got,” Jantzi continued. “I live an hour away (in Utica), but I have a greatjob and I love coaching this team.”