by Andrew Garda
In high school sports, teams lose key players all the time. Graduation takes senior talent away every summer and it’s up to the coach to find ways to replace those athletes.
For Montclair High School girls volleyball coach Pam Reilly, it’s an opportunity to try some new things. There is plenty of talent on the MHS squad, it’s a matter of finding where everyone fits.
That’s why she calls this season a reboot, not a rebuild.
“We have a lot of really promising players that are just young and need to get experience,” she said during a recent practice. “I’m pleasantly surprised, and I’m cautiously optimistic. I’m always cautiously optimistic, even when I had a dynamite group of seniors, because you never really know.”
Part of Reilly’s excitement stems from the fact that she is gaining more and more players with club experience. This year’s Mounties have 13 players with club experience, including some incoming freshmen.
It’s this feeder system that Reilly has been trying to build for a long time.
Players now have the opportunity to learn the game in middle school, via the recreation league run by Montclair Parks and Recreation.
“They are totally helpful to us,” Reilly said. “Michele Cammarata and Garland Thornton, they don’t get nearly enough credit for their work.”
There’s also a Suburban League team, which she is trying to get started and, soon she hopes, a full club team.
“That was my plan, to get a feeder system started,” she said.
The result is a freshman class that contains at least three athletes who Reilly said could easily fill roles on the junior varsity team right away, and potentially move up to varsity at some point.
Now that the talent pipeline has been set up, Reilly can focus on working up some strategy for the high school team.
The Mounties will run what is known as a 6-2 formation, meaning that all six players on the court are spikers, but two of them are also setters. Reilly prefers a 5-1 setup, but doesn’t feel she quite has the personnel to use it.
“To run a 5-1 you really need a super-duper strong middle to hit a slide and you need a setter who is offensive minded, and in my opinion, is relatively tall.”
The Mounties don’t really have those individuals, so they will stick with the 6-2.
The setter position is still a bit of a concern, especially as MHS needs two. However, Reilly feels she has an all-star in the making in sophomore Sienna Martinez, who will play at one of the outside positions.
“She’s fairly young, but Sienna is a very promising player,” Reilly said. “She’s assumed a leadership role as a sophomore, and she’s played club for a long time, so she’s kind of used to the competition. I’m looking forward to her being a leader.”
She feels the middle is coming along as well, led by another sophomore Raya Happonen, who has had a great summer according to her coach.
A lot of sophomores will actually see the floor, according to Reilly. Which means the coaching staff knows there will be some mistakes due to inexperience, but that they will also have this core group for several years.