Local players on the Shawsheen Tech Varsity Volleyball team

The Shawsheen Tech Varsity Volleyball team will open the season this week behind a handful of local players including front row from left: Sandra Watne (Wilmington), Sophia Rego (Wilmington) and Bianca Corso (Wilmington), and back row includes assistant coach Kelsey Rapoza, Coach Julie Yentile, Allyson Haley (Tewksbury), Chloe Gaglione (Wilmington), Celina Barczak (Wilmington), and Coach Anne De'Marco.     (photo by Jim Vaiknoras).

BILLERICA — With a 9-11 record last season, the Shawsheen Tech Volleyball team fell just short of their goal of qualifying for the state tournament. While coming up short of a tournament bid was certainly a disappointment for the Rams, the nine wins marked a tremendous improvement from the 5-14 record from the 2017 season.

The improvement was nice, but Shawsheen coach Anne DeMarco, entering her third season at the helm, also viewed the season as a missed opportunity. And with many players returning to the team after gaining valuable experience last season, she is confident that the opportunity will not be missed again this season.

“I expect our competitiveness to continue to improve from year to year,” DeMarco said. “This year’s team is brimming with confidence in and commitment to the program; all the athletes are determined to be their best.

“Last year, our current returners witnessed a serious weakness. That weakness was that there was a lack of dedication to the program and the desire to win. This year’s team has already overcome the weakness and left it behind them. This notable transition has been led by Brooke Bicknell, Shauna Nolan, and Sophia Rego, all of whom I will rely on to maintain the type of team chemistry needed create a winning program.”

It will not be easy for the Rams, however. While they do bring back a solid core of returning players, it can’t be overlooked that they lost six seniors off of last year’s squad, including CAC All-Stars Brooke Johnson and Katie Morrissey.

“Brooke and Katie were hard to replace,” DeMarco said. “Brooke was our number one receiver and one of our best servers while Katie was one of our most consistent, loyal, and dependable athletes.”

While the two co-captains, as well as the other seniors were certainly talented players, DeMarco feels like she has found players capable of filling their roles.

With a starting lineup that includes senior setter Deanna Goguen, the team’s lone returning starter, sophomore right side hitter Bianca Corso, sophomore setter Devin Sweeney, senior middle hitter Allyson Haley of Tewksbury, junior middle hitter Sophia Rego of Wilmington, senior left side hitters Allison MacEachern and Shauna Nolan and senior libero Brooke Bicknell, DeMarco feels like she has the right combination to replace the difficult losses.

“I see Brooke Bicknell as a solid replacement for Johnson and Allison MacEachern a solid replacement for Morrissey,” DeMarco said. “Despite the loss of Johnson and Morrissey, we still have Deanna Goguen. Goguen is a third year starting setter who is talented, highly skilled, and dependable. This year’s team is very fortunate to have her.”

The combination of returnees like Bicknell, Goguen, Haley and MacEachern along with newcomers like Sweeney, Corso, and senior Celina Barczak of Wilmington, seem to provide the right mix to allow the Rams to get over the hump and qualify for the tournament.

“I am hopeful that Corso and Sweeney will be major contributors this year. I am looking forward to having a strong right-side hitter with Corso and fast and agile right back defensive player with Sweeney,” DeMarco said. “The rest will make for a very deep and dependable bench. If someone is having a tough time on the court, I can confidently substitute in any one of our sophomores, Chloe Gaglione, Sandra Watne or Jada McNair. I am confident that this year’s team will make the tournament.”

Both Gaglione and Watne are Wilmington residents.

It has been a continuous pattern of growth for DeMarco and the Rams in each of the past three years and while the CAC will certainly present its share of challenges this season with Essex and Mystic Valley leading the way, she feels that the team is ready for yet another step forward this season.

“Last year’s team missed the tournament by one game for which I attribute to a lack of dedication and commitment to the program. This year’s team is the opposite,” DeMarco said. “They are busting at the seams with a love for the game and the desire to be the very best they can be. They are clearly coming together, as a team, with the goal to be successful in everything they do. They are passionate about the game and committed to each other. The coaching staff and I are looking forward to what this season will bring.”

Shawsheen opened the season on Wednesday vs Fellowship with results not known as of presstime. The Rams will follow up that opener with road matches against Chelsea on Friday, PMA on Monday and Essex Tech on Thursday (5:15 pm starts).

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