Conard Boys Volleyball: A 2023 Success Story
By: Julian Hartland
Nothing was absolutely certain this year except for one thing: we are short. Volleyball has always been a game of height. Last year, Conard had height, with the majority of the starting lineup over 6 feet. With the loss of eight seniors, we hoped to get some height from the underclassmen for the 2023 spring season. However, we didn’t. With the majority of our players under 6 feet and our middles, who are meant to be the tallest, all around 5'10, we knew we would have to work even harder to compete against taller teams. Yet, Coach Roller reveals that this is "one of the deepest rosters in a while" in which "all players contributed". Each of the players had their own talents to bring to the table, which allowed us to maintain that step up on teams who had height.
When the varsity team began their pre-season with a tournament in Woodbridge, we were ready to prove ourselves as a team that could win in spite of height disadvantages. Despite only being the first portion of the season, middle hitter Rafael Ortiz comments that "we are all very close friends," which has created a positive team culture filled with trust and communication. For the round robin part of our game, we battled for a record of 6-1. Our only loss to Darien, the previous class L state champions (25-22), had us ready for the gold bracket. In the end, we made it to the finals against a young Simsbury team and lost 25-21. Even though we couldn't make the final push to win, we demonstrated potential. After consistently beating teams such as Farmington and Ridgefield, who have lots of height, it gave us confidence going into the season.
Again, we were not perfect because "many of us hadn’t played varsity before," notes Brendan Denault, a junior defensive specialist. As a new team with only 3 of the 7 starters returning, Coach Roller strived for us to be consistent as an offensive and defensive unit and continue to increase our volleyball IQ. Coach Ski, a math teacher at Conard and JV coach, believed that our ability to be "sponges" to soak and apply information to games was a characteristic that contributed to our future success. We started off strong with a 3-0 start to the season. However, losing an incredible 5-set match with Southington caused us to hit a snag. After that game, we fell into a slump. Eventually, we ended up with a record of 5-3. We knew that we could get our year on that banner. Senior captain and right side/middle hitter Max Riker cites the two 5-set losses against Southington and Glastonbury to "figure out what we needed to do in those situations to win". This introspective effort translated into an 8-game win streak, including an inspiring revenge sweep against Simsbury. With some luck on our side from matches not counted to the CCC, we managed to tie Southington at 11-1. Securing the banner was rewarding. Who knew that a team as small as ours could be so successful? While only making the CCC semifinals after a 3-0 loss to an even stronger Simsbury team, the team awaits their first round game as the 4th seed against South Windsor. Aidan Plamondon, of both JV and Varsity as a middle/outside hitter, declares that "the varsity line-up is full of talent and lots of skill that allows for insane defense, despite not putting up the best block," which will prove itself in the state tournament.
In addition to varsity, JV has had quite the story. Beating out the varsity’s 13-3 record, JV ended the season a perfect 16-0. Coach Ski credits the JV players' ability to quickly adapt to fast-paced play and their resilience for the undefeated season. With many of their games hitting the maximum three sets, they’ve consistently shown out. Yet, freshman middle Joey Fukuyama claims, "It is not about the undefeated record," but the "mindset" and mental fortitude that were the most important products of the season. For example, Aidan Plamondon recalls a relieving win on a deuce that went beyond the 30s. For reference. Sets are played to 25 with a win by two" rule. For this JV team, resilience has been a major theme throughout the spring season. Coach Ski appreciates his time with JV and how they challenged him to "become a better coach". With talent at every position, JV’s success gives a lot of hope for the future of the Conard boys volleyball program in the coming years.
As someone who played on varsity last year with a group of tall players, I knew that the 2023 season’s success would be strictly dependent on our ability to play as a unit. Even though Coach Roller always ends our huddles with the joke, "Grow six inches", she understands that our success will come regardless of height. She remarks that "height makes the game easier, but this team has overcome that by locking down on defense and learning how to score points." This was a clear fundamental pillar for both teams. Along with our high-level play, the program acts almost like a "family" in Coach Ski’s eyes, which has allowed us to be forgiving and never leave one another behind. Under the coaching of Roller and Ski, the players have become more knowledgeable, and I will not be surprised to see an uptick in interest following this year’s achievements.