Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons finally claimed its first Big 10 girls’ volleyball championship last season when it tied Albany for the top spot and then beat the Lady Falcons in a special playoff.
There will be no repeat for the Golden Knights. The Big 10 was dissolved in June, leaving Bishop Gibbons with one less goal to shoot for.
“We’ve still got the sectionals to play for,” said ND-BG coach Bob Verhayden, whose team reached the area Class B semifinals last season before falling to Johnstown’s state runner-up group. “All of us are striving to be .500.”
Bishop Gibbons and the rest of the former Big 10 teams except Amsterdam will be playing non-league schedules this season.
“In the past, we needed a .500 league record to go [to the Section II tournament],” said Verhayden. “Because all of our games are non-league, by Section II rule, we need a .500 overall record to go. It’s a doable goal, but it changes things. Before I could be a little loosey-goosey with our lineup in our non-league games. Now we’ve got to take care of business.”
The Knights will try to do so in a schedule full of familiar foes. They have home and away matches with Albany, Bishop Maginn, Catholic Central, Schenectady and Troy. The Knights also have a date at Amsterdam, which departed the Big 10 for the Foothills Council.
“The league schedule was in place,” said Verhayden. “Everyone decided to honor it.”
The Knights and Albany split their 2013 regular season matches and both went 11-1 in the Big 10 before ND-BG’s five-set playoff victory. The Knights also won their division at the Waterford-Halfmoon and Schalmont tournaments, and made it to the sectional semis for the third year in a row.
“We don’t get a chance to defend our title. At least people can say we were the last ones. We’ve got a nice banner, and the girls will always have that,” said Verhayden. “The most disappointing thing for the seniors is no Exceptional Seniors game. It’s something they always look forward to.”
Senior middle hitter Annie Riley and junior outside hitter Sarah DelVecchio will captain the Knights. They’ll be coupled at the net with returning letter winners Lauren Ferrucci, a junior middle, Julie Nichols, a sophomore outside hitter, and Paige Lisicki, a senior outside hitter.
Del Vecchio and Nichols had 142 and 138 kills last year, respectively.
“We’ve still got firepower,” said Verhayden, whose 22-3 2013 edition was anchored by a trio of graduated seniors in Big 10 MVP Caroline Bouchard, first-team league all-star Emily Brown and Paris Jarrell. “As long as the injury bug does not get us, we’ll be okay.”
Bouchard and Jarrell were net standouts while Brown triggered the offense with her setting skills. Junior Rebecca Nichols moves from setter backup to starter.
“Losing Brown, that was a big worry of mine, but I think Rebecca will do a good job,” said Verhayden. “We have several new people who will have to step into roles.”
Verhayden mixed and matched veterans and team newcomers at a scrimmage with Saratoga Catholic Wednesday, looking for effective combinations.
“Team chemistry is something we need to work on,” the Knights’ sixth-year coach said. “We’ve got skill. We have to be a team now.”
In its quest for .500, Bishop Gibbons will be playing teams from several leagues and all ranges in class, including Mohonasen, Mekeel Christian Academy, Holy Names, Watervliet and Tamarac.
“Ten victories. Get to the sectionals,” said Verhayden. “Johnstown is still the team to beat in Class B, but there’s a lot of other established programs like Gloversville, Ravena, Cobleskill-Richmondville and Schalmont. We want to be in the mix with them.”
Bishop Gibbons beat Schuylerville in a Class B quarterfinal last season, and was the lone Big 10 team in any class to reach the semifinal round.