St. Cath’s brings back its core

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The St. Catharine Academy girls volleyball team is a perennial underdog in CHSAA Bronx/Westchester, so when senior setter Lauren Paylor was told the Crusaders were the favorites this year, she didn’t believe it.

“The favorites?” she asked, tilting her head to the side. “We’re known as the favorites?”

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

Last season, St. Catharine won its first CHSAA New York Archdiocesan title in 11 years and its first division title in eight years. And the Crusaders bring back essentially their entire core.

Yet, SCA is having a hard time letting go of that Cinderella label that it carried much of last season.

“Technically we’re not [underdogs],” coach Melissa Rosso said. “But we’re seen as that.”

Not by those in the know. There are just too many good players back, including versatile outside hitter Alessandra Rosso, Melissa’s younger sister, and Paylor, an athletic, smooth-as-silk setter. Amarilda Shkoza will once again be St. Catharine’s top threat on the outside and 5-foot-11 Grace Kingsley, who was inexperienced last year, adds blocking ability up front on a team more known for its defense than size and power.

None of the Crusaders play club volleyball, but they did go to a volleyball camp at Wesleyan in Connecticut, an experience they called invaluable.

“It was rough,” Alessandra Rosso said with a laugh. “I think we got a lot closer as a team. We all came back bruised, battered, but laughing with each other. I think it helped us a lot with chemistry.”

Chemistry was one of the team’s key components last year. SCA wasn’t burgeoning with talent, but it was as scrappy as any team in the city and performed well as a unit. Melissa Rosso said her girls need to get back the connection they enjoyed last year, and that’s still a work in progress. She also said that conditioning is something that needs to be addressed, but she’s not worried because it’s still early.

“We were more conditioned than the other teams last year,” Melissa Rosso said. “We could make it to the fifth game, 15th point.”

One thing the St. Catharine players won’t be worried about is the pressure that comes with being the defending division and Archdiocesan champion. Alessandra Rosso scoffed at the very notion.

“Every year, the slate is wiped clean,” she said. “Preston won in 2007 and I don’t think they felt pressure last year.”

That underdog notion is still lingering at the Bronx school. The chip remains firmly on their shoulders.

“We have to work even harder now,” Paylor said. “We have to do everything times 200.”

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