Hopedale Volleyball Looks to Improve Upon Last Year’s Success
By Christopher Tremblay, Staff Sports Writer
After going 6-4 in their pod last year during an abbreviated COVID season, the Hopedale girls’ volleyball team is looking to take that success and use it to their benefit this fall.
The Blue Raiders had opened the season on a high note, but fell to 2-4 when they lost a player to COVID for a couple of weeks, but Hopedale was able to close out the season with four straight wins. The girls not only learned how to win when they were down, but they also began doing the right things on the court as a team.
Bianca Fitch, who is now playing volleyball for Stonehill College, was an important cog in the Blue Raiders season. Playing since the eighth grade she became one of the best in the state and according to Coach Chris Ridolfi, the team may not be able to replace Fitch with one person, but collectively Hopedale will be able to make things work in her absence.
Through the early part of the season the Blue Raiders are improving with each and every match while getting contributions from different kids each night. Captains Kelly Knowlton, a right-side hitter, and Gina Wilke, a middle hitter, have given the Hopedale Coach two leaders on and off the court. In addition to being the two most potent hitters on the squad, the duo was named captains unanimously by last year’s players, giving the team exactly what they needed.
“Both girls lead by example. Although intense, Kelly is also a very light hearted individual that keeps things fun as well,” Ridolfi said. “Gina brings balance that allows to the two to play well together. She is a selfless player with talent to take over and carry a match.”
Another senior outside hitter, Kaylin Boldy gives the Blue Raiders one very consistent athlete to step onto the court whether its passing, defense or attacking. Lately she has been finding ways to score and her serve is becoming unstoppable; Coach Ridolfi will be relying heavily on to be a positive performer.
While her older sister may have taken her volleyball skills to the next level, junior Fran Fitch is hoping that she can become as important of a team player as Bianca. The Hopedale setter, who has been playing on the varsity team since her freshman campaign.
“She is a skilled setter and one who will most likely touch the ball at least once every time it is on our side,” the Coach said. “She is a confident hitter and gets the ball to the front at the right time for our hitters; her serve is also coming along.”
Other hitters hoping to make a name for themselves are juniors Riley Thomson (starting outside hitter), April Mason (middle hitter) and Taylor Martin-LaVache (middle hitter) as well as sophomore outside hitter Kelsey Evans.
Playing defensive specialist will be junior Emily Stewart and senior Ashleigh Bourgeois. The senior has good flexibility and is usually the first off the bench to give the Blue Raiders a spark. Another defense specialist will be first year junior Nena Koman, a transfer from Nipmuc, who will give the squad some added depth.
Ridolfi will also carry four-swing players who will go between the JV and varsity squads. Leading the way will be sophomore Emma Bougeios, freshman Mia Cote and eighth-graders Olivia Barros and Phoebe Carroll.
Ridolfi is expecting the Blue Raiders to once again challenge for the Dual Valley Conference (DVC) league title. Nipmuc and Whitinsville-Christian are the other two teams in the DVC Hopedale will be battling for the championship. With no Sectionals this fall following the regular season Hopedale will take part in a possible four game max Central Mass Tournament before potentially heading toward the States.
“Without the Sectional Tournament it means you’re going to need to have a better seeding going into the State Tournament,” Ridolfi said. “You’ll be playing some stronger teams right off the bat in the States so you’ll want to have as many home matches as you can. It will also make your traveling much easier instead of it being a challenge if we have to travel to far away schools.”
Having no tournament prior to the State Tournament, the regular season is now even more important that the team has no slip ups because it could come back to haunt them in the seedings. Strength of schedule throughout the regular season will now play a big part of preparing for the post-season and Hopedale is hoping that the higher level of play will prepare them for the States.