THE MANCHESTER WEST girls volleyball team ensured right away that this fall would be a more successful one than its last.
The Division II Blue Knights, who lost each of their 15 matches by 3-0 scores last year, opened this season with a 3-0 home victory over Queen City rival Manchester Central of Division I on Sept. 29.
“Our two main focuses were as a team, we all need to work together and communicate and both were so strong during that game,” said junior co-captain Riley McNamara, who is one of West’s two returning varsity players from last year alongside classmate Alexsi Mercado. “It goes to show hard work pays off. Our hard work did pay off. It meant a lot not only to us but to the coaches to see how we all came out, especially against Central — another Manchester school.”
Second-year coach Corri Wilson said teamwork and chemistry have been the team’s most noticeable strengths so far this season.
“They don’t just like each other and get along. It’s more than that,” Wilson said. “They seem to be falling into comfortable patterns on the court and they’re having conversations after and outside of our practices and matches. And also, I think they’re feeling more comfortable with me ... keeping in mind we brought up seven girls from JV (junior varsity).”
Wilson’s JV coach is her son, Josh, who graduated from West in 2013. Both know the sport and how to help West’s players improve, McNamara said.
“Them getting involved in the program has been a huge benefit for us,” McNamara said. “We’re grateful that they have knowledge of volleyball. They’re not just a parent. That’s how it is with our sports sometimes. They want us to be the best we can be and push us to be the best we can be.”
Fellow junior co-captain Madison Lacroix said there is a stronger bond between the players and coaches now that both have grown more comfortable with each other. Building chemistry between players has been harder this season without the usual long bus rides and McDonald’s stops home from some away matches, McNamara said, but both she and Lacroix have tried to replicate those moments in practice.
“At the end of practice, we have a little scrimmage, which is fun to just have time with the team,” Lacroix said. “The coaches step back unless they see something we need to work on...We’ll stop and talk about what we need to work on but it’s not necessarily all serious all the time. We try to have fun at the end of practice. That’s helped with bonding a lot.”
Wilson said the team has also built an open dialogue between the players and coaches. Players are not afraid to come up to either coach and suggest new drills to try, she said.
“They’re not challenging us in a negative way,” Wilson said. “They’re just giving their input and know we’re receptive to that and we do try new things. We watch other teams and talk about what they do, how they warm up, some of their strategies we see them do that (the players) would like to do better, then putting them in practice.”
The Blue Knights have not had to battle crowd noise when trying to communicate on the court this season. Per the Manchester School District’s COVID-19 safety policies for sports, spectators are not allowed at high school volleyball games this fall. Players on the district’s other high school teams receive two game tickets each home game for friends or family members.
To combat the missing crowd support during home games, Wilson got creative with the team’s fundraiser this year. The team put 40 teddy bears up for “adoption” and the adopted bears sit in the West bleachers during home games.
“It’s a fun thing to look over and see that (the teddy bears) but we do miss the spectators,” Lacroix said.
As the Blue Knights (1-3) look toward the remainder of the regular season and the Division II open tournament, they are focused on improving, enjoying the opportunity to play and collecting a few more wins along the way.
“We play for fun and competition and to get better,” McNamara said. “When we win on top of that, it’s just better.”
Merrimack football, cheer teams set to resume this week
Merrimack High School director of athletics Michael Soucy said the Tomahawks’ football and cheer teams will continue their seasons this week.
The varsity football team is scheduled to play at Nashua South on Friday, Soucy said in an email. The cheer team will resume practice this week, he said.
Merrimack athletics were suspended at the beginning of the month after at least one football player tested positive for COVID-19. The school’s field hockey, golf, cross-country, soccer and volleyball teams resumed play last week.
The Tomahawks varsity football team has not played since its 21-14 season-opening win over Bishop Guertin Sept. 25 and its scheduled game Oct. 2 game at Nashua North was canceled.
Concord, Winnacunnet field hockey shutout streaks end
After both opened their seasons with five straight shutout wins, the Concord and Winnacunnet of Hampton field hockey teams allowed their first goals of the season last week.
Goffstown became the first team to score on Concord when the teams played to a 1-1 tie last Monday. Dover did the same to Winnacunnet that day but the Warriors won, 7-3.
The Crimson Tide outscored Pembroke, Merrimack, Manchester Central/West and Manchester Memorial, which they played twice, by a combined 18-0 score over their first five games. Over two games against both Exeter and Oyster River of Durham and one against Portsmouth, Winnacunnet won by a combined 33-0 score.
Windham (4-0) is the only remaining team in the state that has not allowed a goal this season.