Preview: boys volleyball
Published 1:02 am, Thursday, April 15, 2010
The Darien High School boys volleyball team thought 2010 was going to be a rebuilding year. Instead, an influx of height and talent has given Darien the notion it can make waves in the FCIAC.
"We didn't really expect to have the type of size and talent as we've had in the gym this year," junior captain Austin Cockerill said. "Because of all the talent we picked up, we can definitely make an impact in FCIACs."
That influx of new talent paired with a group of four returning starters -- Cockerill, Calder Billhardt, Sam Bryant and Matt Lee -- has given head coach Laurie LaRusso a versatile roster to work with.
"Having that diversity that we did not have in years past will definitely help out," Cockerill said.
Newcomers such as 6-foot-5 middle-hitter Graham Hotchkiss, a junior, have helped soften the blow of losing three frontline players in Keith Bennett, Tucker Burton and last year's team MVP, Eric Heberton.
"We have filled in the holes that they left pretty well," Cockerill said.
However, Hotchkiss will be absent from the Blue Wave lineup for the first couple weeks of the season. The junior is currently taking part in a student exchange program in China.
"Once he gets back from China, he'll be huge for us. He sets up a big block in the middle," Cockerill said.
The midseason addition of Hotchkiss will only bolster and already sizable frontline for Darien, which possesses three other players over 6 feet. Cockerill, who stands 6-foot-5, will help fill the void at middle hitter left by the loss of Heberton and Burton. Cockerill must also step up as a leader for Darien to achieve its goals in 2010.
"I have a lot more responsibility as a teammate," he said. "I'm an outlet now and I have to make bigger plays that I wouldn't have been looked at to make last year."
Billhardt, a shade smaller at 6-foot-3, will split time at outside and middle hitter. Luke Hill, a 6-1 junior, will rotate in at middle hitter.
Billhardt, a junior and three-year starter, is the only player remaining that started on Darien's 2008 Class M state championship team.
He will share time at outside hitter with Connor Maul, the team's only senior, and Bryant, a sophomore with a big spike.
"Sam, he's a sophomore but he can really swing," Cockerill said. "He can hit line, he gets some big kills for us."
All that size and talent up front gives the Blue Wave a potent offense, which will be Darien's strong suit especially early in the season.
"Right now the strongest part of our team is probably attacking," Cockerill said. "We definitely need a lot of work on defense, but as far as hitting goes we're pretty solid."
With arguably the best volleyball coach in the state patrolling the Blue Wave sideline, Cockerill is confident LaRusso can scheme her way around any of Darien's defensive deficiencies.
"The lineups she makes hides everyone's weaknesses and brings out what their good at," Cockerill said.
Another aspect that will undoubtedly help Darien on defense is an improved dynamic within the team. Chemistry was an issue in 2009, according to Cockerill.
"We definitely have a lot of team chemistry. We get along really well on the court," he said. "That was a problem for us last year and we've come a long way from that."
Cockerill used the team's season opening 3-1 loss to Masuk, the 2009 Class M champions, as an example of the team's improved attitude toward one another. After dropping the first game 25-7, the Blue Wave rallied to take the second game 26-24. Although Darien eventually lost the next two games, Cockerill was impressed with the way his team rebounded to give the defending champs a battle.
"We came back and won the second game and won because we believed in ourselves and each other," he said.
If Darien has real aspirations of making a splash in the FCIACs, the Blue Wave are going to have to go through Staples. The two teams square off twice in the regular season -- in Westport on May 3 and at home on May 17.
"If we could take a game off Staples -- if we could kind of put Staples in their place a little, that'd be good, because they've been ruling the FCIAC for a while," Cockerill said.