The Cardinal Spellman girls volleyball team is a perennial contender in CHSAA Bronx/Westchester and the New York Archdiocese. If the Falcons aren’t winning titles, they’re usually the runner-up.
That might not be so this season, longtime coach Jeri Faulkner says.
“We might take our licks,” the 29th-year coach said. “It’s a building year for us.”
Hurting Spellman was the graduation of 6-foot middle hitter Pearl Mensah, who was arguably the most dominant player in the Archdiocese last year.
She led the Falcons to the division championship match and the Archdiocesan title match, both losses to St. Catharine Academy. Mensah is now attending Villanova after turning down some Division I interest.
In her place will be plenty of youth and inexperience. Middle hitter Cari English, a superb leaper, and setter Siobhan Flattery are the only players back who saw significant playing time last year.
Faulkner said she has a lack of players who can play both the front and back row, but the core of the 2009 team is juniors, so there is potential for the future.
“I hope to be very good next year,” Faulkner said.
To be good this year, Spellman will need contributions from emerging junior outside hitter Olivia O’Farrill and 5-foot-9 senior middle hitter Alexandra Feliz. She will have the unenviable task of replacing Mensah in the middle. Faulkner thinks the division race, for the first time in a long time, will not include her team. Preston and St. Catharine Academy, she said, are the favorites.
“They can beat each other up,” Faulkner joked.
The reason Preston is in the mix is because it returns the best player in the Archdiocese and one of the best players in the city: junior middle/outside hitter Kerri Johnson. The athletic, 6-foot former basketball player is receiving Division I interest.
The Panthers won an Archdiocesan championship when she was a sophomore, but that wasn’t her team. Now she’s a senior.
“You have no idea how much I want to win the title this year,” Johnson said.
“I was already very lucky to win it in 2007 with my team, but I want to win two titles in my high-school career.”
Preston also returns 6-foot middle/outside Clare Donnelly, coming off her first season playing club, so coach Heebong Choi’s team boasts some size and offensive weapons.
Also back are setter Nicole Cavigliano, outside/right side Jessica Kerrigan and defensive specialist Kelly Jackson.
Aquinas might not be a favorite, but it is a dark horse candidate. Like St. Catharine Academy last year, not much is expected of the Bears, but they bring back a solid squad. Both outsides, Rebecca Peralta – one of the best players in the borough – and Melanie Luna, return, as does middle hitter Vania Rondon. Britney Sampson will be used as an outside hitter and setter.
“I hope to be very competitive this year,” longtime coach Liz Breden said. “We have a nice little team. Hopefully it works out for us this year.”