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Norfolk/Wrentham - Local Town Pages

KP Volleyball Team Aims for Lengthy Tourney Advance

The 2022 edition of the King Philip girls volleyball team is aiming for another successful run in the state tournament.

By Ken Hamwey
Staff Sports Writer
The King Philip girls volleyball team is eager to get started on another playoff run.
Last year, coach Kristen Geuss’ squad, which finished the regular season with a 19-1 record and tied for the Kelley-Rex Division title, rolled to three straight triumphs in the state tourney before bowing out of the final four. 
KP defeated Chicopee Comprehensive, Notre Dame of Hingham, and Woburn before losing to Hopkinton, the eventual state champion.
Last year’s tourney run was the deepest advance by a KP volleyball team coached by Geuss, who’s led the Warriors to six playoff berths in six years.
“Our goals at the start of this season were to qualify for the tourney, to compete for the Kelley-Rex title and to improve our skills,’’ Geuss said. “The players’ unspoken goal was to capture a state championship. Our objectives are realistic because we’ve got talent, we’re skilled and we have depth and experience. Other strengths include a high volleyball IQ, athleticism, resilience and team chemistry.’’
Three Warriors who display a variety of the strengths listed by Geuss are the senior captains — Ahunna James (outside hitter), Emily Sawyer (middle hitter), and Sami Shore (middle hitter). 
“Ahunna is a two-time captain,’’ Geuss noted. “She’s versatile, able to play any position. A force on the inside, she can attack from the back row. She’s athletic, strong and has a high volleyball IQ. Emily blocks well, is an aggressive server, has great instincts and is a strong finisher. Sami has a high volleyball IQ, adjust quickly, is a quality hitter and blocker and has a strong serve.’’
At Local Town Pages deadline, Sawyer was leading in kills (127), aces (46), and blocks (17). James had 33 aces, 102 kills and was leading in digs with 100. Shore was second in kills with 118.
All the captains will be competing in college next year. James will be playing for Southern Connecticut State, Sawyer will play at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, and Shore will be competing for Suffolk University. 
Three other seniors who were prime contributors during the regular season are Kiera Hagen (setter), Olivia O’Neil (outside hitter), and Missy Canning (right-side hitter).
“Kiera is a timely, well-skilled setter,’’ Geuss said. “She knows when and who to get the ball to. Effective at the service line, she gets her share of assists. Olivia has improved greatly. She’s a strong hitter, an effective blocker and is solid on defense. Missy also has improved a lot from last year. A powerful hitter from the right side, she’s a strong presence at that position.’’
Junior Shea Mellman (libero) and sophomore Madison Asprelli (setter) are key components in KP’s nucleus.
“Shea takes control of the back row nicely,’’ Geuss said. “A strong communicator, she sees the ball well and adjusts quickly. Madison is confident and calm in her setter role. She doesn’t get rattled easily and she’s effective at the service line.’’
Juniors Kate O’Neil (right-side hitter) and Ava Kelley (defensive specialist) are skilled and consistent.
“Kate is strong and powerful,’’ Geuss said. “She’s strong, intense and a formidable blocker on the right side. Ava is quick and scrappy in the back row. A calming presence, she’s a consistent passer who’s very athletic. 
Rounding out the roster are four girls who could step in and play effectively if called on. They are juniors Ryann O’Sullivan (right-side, middle hitter), Meghan Sullivan (defensive specialist), and Emily Zappola (outside, right-side hitter), and sophomore Fiona Bailey (outside, right-side hitter).
“Ryann is a great blocker,’’ Geuss offered. “Meghan is a good passer and digs well. Emily is a strong hitter on the outside, and Fiona, who shows signs of being a strong hitter, has filled in at setter while Keira Hagen recovers from an illness.’’
Geuss relies on a coaching philosophy that emphasizes reaching one’s potential, having fun competing and embracing sportsmanship on and off the court. 
“If the girls are playing to their potential and enjoying volleyball, we hope that winning is the by-product,’’ Geuss emphasized. “And we hope athletics provide an opportunity to learn valuable life lessons. Sports can help competitors to overcome adversity, to be good leaders and good teammates, to set goals, manage their time and to believe in yourself and each other.’’
The Warriors, whose record was 14-1 after 15 matches, will be banking on tourney success, and the source of that success will come from a reliance on an opportunistic style and an ability to finish strong.
KP’s volleyball program rarely ever experiences a slump, or a down cycle. The program’s players just seem to rise to the task at hand and compete relentlessly.
“We don’t rebuild,’’ Geuss said. “We reload. We all love volleyball. The girls play year-round and their work ethic is great.’’ 
Reloading is a realistic approach, considering that Geuss lost six seniors to graduation. Her roster now includes six seniors, six juniors and two sophomores, all capable and all able to create dependable team chemistry.
A final four appearance last year was admirable but a playoff journey this month that takes a bit longer would be welcomed.