“If we play to our potential, we are very dominant, and it is going to be hard for teams to stop us.”
Head Coach Lisa Predaina is excited about her Bedford High School volleyball team, one of the top Division 3 entries in the state.
The Bucs open the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association playoffs Friday at 4:30 p.m., hosting the winner of today’s qualifying game between Bishop Stang of North Attleboro and O’Bryant of Boston in the BHS gym.
Predaina noted that “this is our first season in Division 3. It’s a different selection of teams for the state tournament. It is always exciting to play against new teams.”
The Bedford team finished the regular season with 12 wins, eight losses, including seven wins and three losses in the ultra-competitive Dual County League. And that’s why the Bucs were seeded sixth in the state Division 3, with power rankings based on strength of schedule as well as record.
“It has really worked to our advantage in terms of consistently playing very competitive, very polished volleyball teams,” Predaina said. “It has been very challenging because everybody is really good. And that pushes all the DCL teams to get even better.”
“We’ve got a very talented team this year and to be challenged only prepares us to handle the challenges we may face in the tournament.” The Bucs have been there before – they made it to the sectional semifinals two years ago.
Predaina became varsity volleyball head coach in 2016. This is her fifth fall season; the pandemic moved volleyball from the fall of 2020 to a limited spring 2021 schedule.
The coach is not concerned that her team will take the opening round foe lightly. “These girls treat every opponent with respect. We know any team any day can beat any other team. We beat some teams for the first time in school history this year. It helps us maintain mental discipline. When we play calm and confident, that’s when we’re really powerful.”
Everybody inside the BHS gym is required to be masked – players, coaches, officials, spectators. Predaina is a teacher at BHS so “I live in my mask all day,” she laughed, adding that her student-athletes “are all used to it.”
The 2021 volleyball Buccaneers have an especially high experience quotient. All but one of the 14 players are seniors. “Almost all of them have had multiple years in the program -– some for four years. They are really committed to being as competitive as they can be, and they all push each other to do better. They set a great example for younger players on the work you have to do.”
Predaina talked about each player’s strengths, starting with her two DCL all-stars. Lauren Harrell, left-handed and about six-two, “has really started to find power in her play. She is a force and has been very dominant at the net, and a big reason why we generate so many hard-driven kills.”
Gabriella Zovko, the only junior, was most valuable player in the DCL Foley Division. Also a lefty and over six feet, “Gabriella is one of our centers and she and Lauren have incredible chemistry together and make a very powerful duo on the court, They are absolutely in synch and really run the offense, and set great leadership and examples.”
Cassidy Schuman, an outside hitter, has only played volleyball for three years, the coach said. “She is incredibly athletic and has picked up tremendous skill in a very short time. She has a really powerful swing, and has been important serving and defensively throughout our season.”
The coach also cited Gabrielle Griffiths and Joshana Joseph for “really outstanding blocking this year. We are a tall team and have been able to slow down some opponents’ offenses. Another middle who has had an impact with her serving is Bella Fernald, “ a very steady, very reliable presence.”
The coach also noted “impact players in their first season on varsity.” Outside hitter Rokibat Salako has “incredible vertical and reach with the ability to absolutely pound the ball.” Emma Jordan switched from center into a defensive specialist and “leads the team in pass rating and serve receiving.”
Logan Sullivan is the back-row setter when Zovko is attacking. “Logan is really a scary force. She sets up a really consistent good ball when Gaby is attacking. That’s a major part of our offense.”
Playing libero, always in the back row, are Angela Gu and Seimoon Khan, both “very good at passing. They’ve been alternating in that role because both are really talented.”
Reserves are Annie Bernstein playing outside and “improving every time she steps on the court, and Ani Zildjian, “the hardest worker, selfless about the way she approaches practice and the most positive force, at all times making the team better.” Insun Hong, in her second year, “improved by leaps and bounds this season.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at email@example.com, or 781-983-1763