Kennedy girls’ volleyball builds on youth

Kennedy setter Paola Piroli will run a 6-2/5-1 twist with Jessica Gonzalez in 2009. Photo by Damion Reid

Iris Bromfield didn’t have high expectations for her John F. Kennedy girls volleyball team entering the preseason. The PSAL city runner-up Knights lost four senior starters, all of them standouts.

But when Bromfield got them into the gym, her outlook changed.

Was she surprised?

“Hell yeah,” the 28th-year coach said with a laugh. “I’m like, ‘Oh my God, they’re better than I thought.’”

One of the league’s premier programs, Kennedy is still going to be a force this season, it’s just going to be on the young side. Bromfield will be relying on sophomore outside hitters Ashley Herrera and Doruntina Zariqi. She even brought up a few freshmen to the varsity. Herrera is also out with a dislocated shoulder.

The coach is hoping the Knights hit their full stride as the season wears on.

“I want that,” Bromfield said. “But they’re young. I don’t know where they’re heading yet.”

She does know what to expect from her veterans. Middle hitters Sharon Ofori and Mel-Lisa Saunders and setter Paola Piroli were regulars on last year’s finals team. Saunders will have to play a little outside in Herrera’s absence and Piroli is going to be running what Bromfield calls a 6-2/5-1 twist with fellow setter Jessica Gonzalez, who, the coach says, has impressed thus far.

Ditto for the athletic, 5-foot-7 Ofori, who has made great strides going into her senior season.

“It’s a big difference from last year,” Bromfield said. Many things are different from last year, especially the absence of all-city caliber players Elsie Almiron, Mariely Hernandez and Lisbeth Rodriguez. Bromfield says the young girls are hungry to fill their shoes, but it won’t be easy.

“Without Elsie or Mariely or Lili, I feel empty, because we have been through a lot together,” Ofori said. “We were basically like a family and not having them is like not having someone to guide you.”

Rodriguez is going to be missed because of her defensive acumen. She was one of the best liberos in the city last fall. Suada Ibric will supplant her in 2009.

There are plenty of question marks, but Bromfield isn’t worried. Not only have things gone better than she expected so far, but Kennedy has time. The Knights will graduate just two regulars after this season.

“Our goal is to win, but if we don’t win, our goal is to learn,” Bromfield said. “I only lose two players.”

If history is any indication, Kennedy won’t lose many matches either.

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