KP Volleyball Squad Aiming for More Tourney Success
The 2023 edition of the King Philip volleyball team that’s aiming for the program’s eighth straight tournament berth.
By Ken Hamwey
Staff Sports Writer
Kristen Geuss has guided the King Philip volleyball team to seven straight state tournament berths. An eighth-straight invitation isn’t automatic but the program’s tradition and its players passion for the sport make the Warriors likely playoff participants again.
KP’s record was 2-3 at Local Town Pages deadline, numbers that suggest the Warriors had their share of early-season challenges. The 2023 squad has a tough act to follow because last year’s contingent displayed dynamic staying power in the tourney.
“The deepest advance we’ve experienced during my first seven years as head coach was last season,’’ Geuss noted. “We finished 18-2 overall, then beat Notre Dame (Hingham), Nashoba, Westwood and Melrose before losing in the state final to Westboro. We ended our season at 22-3.’’
This year’s team lost three straight matches after an opening-day triumph over Stoughton. KP bowed to Franklin, Oliver Ames and Wellesley before defeating Attleboro.
“We played three top-notch teams early on but we’ve started to jell and the girls are settling into their positions,’’ Geuss noted. “Their confidence is building every day.’’
KP began the season with an experienced group (eight returnees). The junior-senior laden team is scrappy, relies on a strong work ethic and is solid on defense. And, it has the ability to rally on offense.
“Our strengths include experience, depth, athleticism, and a volleyball IQ that continues to develop,’’ Geuss said. “Our technique is good because we work on that aspect every day. Mental toughness and resiliency are other key attributes that we have.’’
KP’s goals at the start of the season were daily improvement, aim for the Kelley-Rex Division title, qualify for the tourney and go as deep as possible. Geuss says four factors play a role in a deep advance.
“A team has to be peaking at the right time,’’ she emphasized. “Staying healthy is a must and a little luck can help. And, your team chemistry has to click.’’
The Warriors senior captains — Ryann O’Sullivan (middle hitter), Shea Mellman (defensive specialist/libero) and Kate O’Neil (outside hitter) — are a good starting point when assessing team chemistry.
“They lead by example, they’re vocal and communicative, and they’re supportive,’’ Geuss said. “Ryann has stepped up in her role as a middle hitter. Her volleyball IQ is solid and she gets her share of blocks and kills. Shea is the leader of the back row. A great communicator, she’s excellent on serve-receives, is a good passer and solid on defense. Kate is a strong hitter who gets playing time in the back row. She’s consistent in compiling kills and is adept at keeping the ball in play.’’
Seniors Ava Kelley and Meghan Sullivan are defensive specialists who excel in the back row. “Ava is scrappy, has lots of energy and is great in the back row,’’ Geuss said. “Meghan’s defensive skills are very good and she’s experienced in the back row.’’
The squads other two seniors are hitters — Olivia Keough is a middle hitter and Emily Zappala plays on the outside. “Oliva works hard and has good blocking skills,’’ Geuss said. “Emily has come on strong as an outside hitter, serves effectively and is energetic.’’
Junior Madison Asprelli is in her second year as KP’s starting setter. “She runs our offense effectively,’’ Geuss said. “Madison serves well and has a high volleyball IQ and good courts sense.’’
Fiona Bailey is a junior outside hitter labeled by Geuss as “a capable hitter who blocks well and who also is a capable all-around competitor.’’ Anna Vinson, another junior, is a right-side hitter who “handles her role effectively and has improved as a blocker.’’
Juniors Avery Reda and Tamanda Clarke are middle hitters whom Geuss says “have blocking ability and the potential to be highly effective middle hitters.’’
Juniors Alex Pauline, a defensive specialist, and Paige Ballantyne, a setter, continue to improve. “Alex is strong in the back row, is an effective server and can play multiple positions,’’ Geuss said. “Paige is learning to be an offensive leader. She’s strong on defense and is improving her volleyball IQ.’’
Cecelia Kilroy is the only sophomore on KP’s squad. Able to play either right-side hitter or setter, Geuss says “she’s versatile, a great attacker who finishes well, and a phenomenal server.’’
Geuss’ athletic philosophy focuses on improving daily, making sure her players reach their potential and enjoy their sports journey. “Life lessons my players can learn from volleyball are how to work as a team, how to set goals, how to be leaders and how to overcome adversity,’’ she noted. “I also want our players to be good people on and off the court.’’
NOTES & QUOTES: Geuss rates Franklin, Attleboro and Oliver Ames as the teams that will contend for the Kelley Rex Division title. “They’re talented, well-coached and have strong tradition,’’ she said.
KP’s jayvee coach is Carly Adams and the program’s freshman coach is Haley Dennis. “They’re excellent coaches who prepare our younger players to compete at a higher level,’’ Geuss noted.
Players from last year’s outstanding team who are competing in college are Emily Sawyer at Sacred Heart University, a Division 1 school in Connecticut; Ahunna James at Southern Connecticut University (Division 2); and Sami Shore at Suffolk University (Division 3)