By Tom Tigani
– Riverview Register
Despite losing a number of players from last year, Riverview Gabriel Richard’s volleyball team has its sights set on a league title this season.
The Pioneers made it all the way to the Catholic High School League C-D semifinals last year, where they beat archrival Allen Park Cabrini High School before advancing to the finals and losing to Wixom St. Catherine of Siena Academy in the finals.
They then went on to the D3 District 86 championship game, where they were knocked off by eventual state-semifinalist Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central.
Half of that team returns this year, along with seven players who are new to the varsity squad. Turnover notwithstanding, winning its league is the team’s No. 1 goal this year, Coach Sarah Johnson said.
“They’ve all agreed that they refuse to be second place,” she said. “We lost a lot of impact seniors to graduation, so it’ll be a learning curve for the new girls this year, but we wouldn’t have them on varsity if they didn’t think they could handle it.”
The good news, Johnson said, is that seven returning players have played together two to three years. Additionally, libero Isabella Kandes has been a defensive stalwart for the last three years and has received multiple college offers.
“We’re really looking to her to be our leader this year,” Johnson said. She also expects a good year from varsity setter Madelyn Szczechowski, now in her
third year “A good setter makes the offense,” Johnson said. “She’s very consistent, very calm and smart with the way she runs the floor and the plays.”
The Pioneers also return three players in offensive leadership roles: senior middle hitter Jenna DeMarco, senior outside hitter Francesca Vitale, and junior outside hitter Katie Schultz.
The team marked the start of its 2019 season with a home game Sept. 4, against longtime rival Allen Park Cabrini High School. “It’s always a close battle,” Johnson said.
Other competition looms as well.
“Lutheran North is going to be our big nemesis this year, but they also lost a lot of offense, so it’s going to be defensive battles,” Johnson said. “Once we hit the regular season, where we finish in standings will determine whether we see them in the conference playoffs. Our Lady of Lakes in Waterford will also definitely be someone we won’t take lightly.”
Johnson looks for her defense to play a key role in the Pioneers 2019-2020 success.
“Our defense is extremely strong this year,” she said. “I can pick from any of my defensive players equally in any situation. Any one is a leader, and any one can step and take charge.”
Overall, Johnson said, Pioneer fans should expect very high-energy, exciting games. “This group of girls is very passionate about the game and has been working hard the last couple of years,” she said. “They’ve been in a winning environment, and my seniors know it’s their turn to step up and continue building the tradition and the name for Gabriel Richard volleyball program.”