In a normal year, the Hopkinton High School girls volleyball team would go into a season ready to make a deep postseason run. The Hillers did just that last year, advancing to the sectional final before losing to the eventual state champion.
But this is anything but a normal season. “Last year” for girls volleyball was the fall of 2019. Instead of playing last fall, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in many teams, including Hopkinton, being wedged into a so-called “Fall 2” season that runs from March into late April.
But coach Margie Grabmeier said none of this is dampening the spirits of her players as the season begins.
“It could be disappointing not to have a tournament, but we prefer to flip the script and look at the positives and be grateful for the opportunities we have,” Grabmeier said. “We are not focusing on what we can’t do, we are focusing on what we can do.”
Practice began in late February and, with nine players back from last year’s strong squad, Grabmeier said the team hit the ground running.
“Four practices in and it felt like the bond is back,” she said. “We have a ton of things we do year to year, and we want to do those things and make it feel as normal as possible with the cards we are dealt.”
Many aspects of this season do look fairly “normal” for the Hillers. Hopkinton had a strong turnout for the volleyball program and will field a total of four teams: varsity, two JV squads and a middle school team. The Hillers will run their “big/little” program, pairing a more experienced member of the program as a mentor and partner for a younger athlete.
And while there may not be the usual packed bleachers for either tradition, Hopkinton plans on running a Dig Pink game to raise money for breast cancer research and the Side Out Foundation, as well as a senior night for those athletes who will be playing their final year with the program.
Two seniors will serve as captains for the varsity this winter: outside hitter Cadyn Boyce and right side hitter Cassie White. Senior Rachel Leeret will be a setter along with junior Cathryn Leighton, who came on strong during the 2019 tournament.
Grabmeier said the middle hitters on the team are “just looking fantastic.” The group includes senior Millie Senseney along with Kate Powers and Mikayla Grady.
Other returning hitters include Mirabella Paolucci, Kate Dion and junior Melanie Gildea, who likely will play a starting role.
“Her improvement in the offseason was truly impressive,” Grabmeier said. “She came back focused and ready to play.”
A quartet of defensive specialists rounds out the varsity roster. Hannah Quinlan and Sam Berenson return from last year’s team and join newcomers Sarah Furlong and Meg McCarron.
“All four of them are doing really well,” Grabmeier said. “The first few days of tryouts felt more like practices in the middle of the season. They really haven’t missed a step.”
Hopkinton will need to ramp up quickly, given the brevity of the season. The Hillers play just 10 games over a five-week stretch: two games per week against five other schools from the Tri-Valley League’s Large School division, starting with a March 9 match at Holliston. There will be precautions in place. Masks will have to be worn at all times, the teams will not change sides between sets, and there will be few, if any, fans in the stands.
But Grabmeier said her players are all veterans when it comes to COVID-19 safety, maybe even more so than their coach.
“I have been living in my bubble on Cape Cod, these kids have been doing these things since they started attending school,” the coach said. “They are used to being spaced and using the hand sanitizer. It’s second nature to them, I am picking up tips.”
No matter the new rules in place, Grabmeier said the team is excited to be playing.
“Everyone is so enthusiastic and happy to be out on the court,” she said. “There is nothing but positive energy, we are so grateful.”