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"Youth" is a key word for the Nordonia High School girls volleyball team at the outset of the 2016 season.
One of the reasons is that the Lady Knights lost four starting seniors to graduation. That quartet included middle hitter Sierra Pla, outside hitter Natalie Spadaro, defensive specialist Jillian Bowerman, and outside hitter Lauren Strauss. Pla will be playing this fall at the University of Dayton, while Spadaro will play for Notre Dame College.
Last year, Nordonia finished with an overall record of 6-18. The Lady Knights were also 3-10 in the National Conference of the Suburban League. Nordonia then won its first match in the postseason before losing to Kenston in the sectional finals.
Returning for the Lady Knights this season are All-Suburban League honorable mention selections Alexis Perney and Faith Banks. Perney is a senior libero, while Banks is a junior setter. Also back is sophomore outside hitter Megan Alders.
"All three bring excellent leadership and experience with them," said Nordonia head coach Andrea Ciavarelli. "They will be our go-to players this year."
Key newcomers to the team include freshman outside hitter Maddie Knight and freshman middle hitter Dominique Evans.
"They bring a lot of athleticism and power to our offense, and I'm excited to see how they grow into their roles this year," said Ciavarelli.
Ciavarelli has been impressed by what she's seen of her team so far during the preseason. "We are young, but anxious to improve," she said. "I've seen a lot of fight in this group over the summer, and while our youth means inexperience, it also means we have nothing to lose and everything to gain."
There is, however, a flip side to that very youthful coin.
"Our strength is also our weakness," said Ciavarelli. "All but one of my hitters is a freshman or sophomore, and I only have two seniors. There is a lot of inexperience at the varsity level, and that will catch up with us against the stronger teams in our conference."
Speaking of which, the Lady Knights will certainly have their work cut out for them in their quest to conquer the National Conference competition.
"Brecksville will be the most dominant team in the conference this year," said Ciavarelli. "I believe they will go at least to the state final four, if not further. As we learned last year, there are no weak teams in this conference. I expect every night to be a battle, no matter who is on the other side of the net.
"Our goals for the season are to compete and learn from each and every experience on the court," said Ciavarelli. "Because we're so young, we need to take advantage of these opportunities to grow."
Ciavarelli is starting her third year as the head coach at Nordonia. Her varsity assistant coach this season is Tom Dlugopolsky. In addition, Nordonia alumna Beth Buss will be the junior varsity coach with fellow alumna Kendall Fischer will serve as the junior varsity assistant coach.
Nordonia is set to open the new season Aug. 20 at 12:30 p.m. at Mentor.