Lauren Visbal was more concerned with laying a firm foundation of skills and getting her young players time on the court than she was with winning matches. The J. Taylor Finley Middle School’s girls’ volleyball coach was delighted that her roster included 27 athletes and she hopes to keep as many of them involved in the program as they head to the high school.
Captained by Gigi Devoe, Marina Durand, Gracie Renkewitz and Julia Steinberg, Finley went winless in 10 contests, but four of the losses were by a single game. The Falcons won at least one game in all but one match.
“Although we didn’t win any matches this season, the team’s confidence was still high because they set their minds to improving,” Visbal said. “They are a talented group and when they were communicating and working hard, they played well.”
Durand and Shannon Kehoe were the top setters while Devoe, Emily Plachta and Analisse Batista were the leading hitters. Renkewitz and Grace Stolfa led the passers. Kehoe, Batista, Stolfa, Renkewitz and Katie Renkewitz were the top servers.
“Shannon [Kehoe] is a key player on the team,” said Visbal about the seventh grader. “Volleyball comes natural to her. Her serving helped us tremendously in scoring points.”
The eighth grade Durand also shined. “Marina has improved a lot from last year,” Visbal said. “She is more aggressive on the court, which keeps the ball in play.”
Plachta is another talented seventh grader. “Emily has done a great job with blocking and passing,” Visbal said. “She plays defense well and had some great ‘kills’ as well.”
Stolfa sparkled as an outside hitter. “Gracie’s passing has improved so much,” Visbal said. “She is all over the court and passing on target. She has a future as a libero.” (A libero is a roaming defensive player.)
Batista is still one more exceptional seventh grader. “Analisse has an aggressive serve and always steps to the ball to keep it in play,” Visbal said. “She was able to get many ‘kills’ this season.”
The roster included 14 seventh graders and 13 eighth graders. “Everyone improved,’ Visbal said. “Some were not able to serve over the net at the beginning of the season, but at the end they were.”
The high school volleyball season is in the fall. So Finley players that also participate soccer, field hockey, tennis and cross country all have a choice to make. Visbal expects seven of the current eighth graders to take the high school court as freshmen.
The coach believes all of this year’s seventh graders will be back in Finley’s ranks next winter.