It's been six years since
Bristol Eastern (Bristol, Conn.)
won the last of its four CIAC state championships. The Lancers appear primed to make a run for No. 5 this season.
Not that Eastern isn't always in the hunt. Since that last championship year of 2006, coach Stacy Rivoira's teams have reached the final in 2007 and been to the quarterfinals each of the past four seasons.
This year's team has a trio of senior leadership and the right mix of underclassmen to move the Lancers beyond the quarters.
"We're very fortunate this year. The three seniors who are returning are three-year starters for me, and they have a lot of leadership skills, and the chemistry of the whole group is just tremendous this year," Rivoira said. "Beside their work ethic and their natural athletic ability, together as a group they work really well together."
The seniors are outside hitters Karissa Smith
and Jessica Hubina
, and middle hitter Beth Cucka
. The three have helped Eastern go undefeated at 13-0 through Monday without losing a game.
Smith leads the Lancers in kills with 144, and also has 72 digs and 36 aces with a 93.3 serve percentage. Cucka has nine blocks and 46 kills, and Hubina a team-high 74 digs, 27 aces and 46 kills.
"They're all very intelligent players," Rivoira said. "Karissa anticipates the ball extremely well. Her athleticism allows her to get so many balls, and her strength is an asset to her up at the net.
"Beth has great timing as a blocker. She's become stronger as the years have gone on. She's been doing a nice job of putting that ball down, finding the open space and helping us offensively in the front row. And Jessica, who was actually my libero last year, is an outside hitter this year. She provides a lot of balance."
Rivoira is getting big contributions from the rest of her rotation, which includes 6-foot-3 junior middle hitter Cheyenne Orsi
, who has 110 kills and 11 blocks; junior Jenna Rodjenski (32 kills, 32 aces, 54 digs); junior libero Brooke Johnson
(53 digs, 13 aces); sophomore setter Brianna Root
(330 assists, 28 aces) and junior defensive specialist Maggie Getler
"This year we have a lot of players that we can go to, which gives Brianna lots of options," Rivoira said. "If they (the opponent) are shutting one person down, we have two, three, four others that can swing at the ball and that makes it hard to defends us.
"(Height) is a gift most coaches appreciate, " Rivoira added. "When you're putting a double-block up, it frustrates other teams. With Cheyenne, that's a huge person to get the ball over.
"The team every day, it just flows. There's not one personality that's overshadowing the others. They're all pushing in the same direction. There wasn't that last year. Last year, personality-wise, there was some friction among my seniors. It wasn't always noticeable on the court, off the court it was an issue at times."
Eastern has already defeated one of its chief Central Connecticut Conference rivals in Glastonbury, 3-0, in early October, handing the Tomahawks one of their two losses. The Lancers face another CCC rival in Southington (10-3) on Friday.
Eastern will not meet RHAM (Hebron, Conn.), another top conference team at 13-0, in the regular season, but will perhaps have to get past them for a state title, since both schools are in Class L. The Lancers will meet last year's state No. 1, Coventry (12-0), in the next-to-last game of the regular season.
Eastern took eventual Class LL state champion Cheshire to five games in the quarterfinals last season. Though it was a tough loss, the Lancers gained much valuable experience and a renewed sense of mission.
"They're motivated and coming up this week we have a big test (Southington). The girls are very anxious to see how we match up against them," Rivoira said. "And the following week, when we go up against Coventry, will be good indicators of where we stand, and what kind of team we really are."Paul Rosano, the former assistant sport editor of The Hartford
Courant and sports editor of The New Haven Register, is a MaxPreps contributor. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.