TEWKSBURY - Kiley Kennedy is a second year player for the Tewksbury High volleyball team, but with the pandemic distorting the high school sports experience in 2020, this year feels more like a first year in many ways.
Kennedy, a junior, will be playing a key role for the Redmen, putting the offense in motion as the team's starting setter.
After joining the varsity, last year, she became the team's starting setter. There was a transition period, as she played at outside hitter on the junior varsity as a freshman, but she eventually played well enough to help Tewksbury become a more successful team by the end of the covid season.
"As a sophomore who was brand new to the position she really stepped up and did a great job, last year," said Tewksbury coach Allie Luppi. "That was not an easy thing to do at all."
Kennedy never played organized volleyball before coming out for the team as a Redman freshman. She had fun, got along with her junior varsity teammates, and decided to stick around and make it her fall sport.
"I really enjoyed it," she said, in an interview before practice on Friday. "I liked the team and everyone who played it. They made it really fun. It was a good new thing to try for high school."
Kennedy joined the varsity, last year, where - along with everyone else - experienced the new rules brought on by the pandemic.
Not only did the players have to wear masks at all times, they also could not make unnecessary contact with their teammates and opponents, not to mention absolutely no fans at their matches.
"It was definitely a lot tougher, especially with it being my first year on varsity, too," said Kennedy. "It was fun being on varsity for the first time. The masks did make it harder, but we all went through it together, so it was good."
While Kennedy found success as an outside hitter, freshman year, the varsity was looking to fill a few positions which were vacated by graduating players, so when she moved up to that squad, sophomore year, she was moved to setter.
Kennedy was now in charge of setting up for her teammates, getting into the middle of the action almost every point to make sure the hitters get good balls to swing at or tip over the net to score points for the team.
A good game for a setter usually includes a lot of assists on the scoresheet.
"It was a very big change, it was a lot to get used to, especially in your first year," said Kennedy. "It was a new thing but it was good."
Of course there was a transition period where she found it difficult to perform her new role for the team, especially with many of the others settling into new roles as well. Her coach and teammates kept faith in her, and Kennedy eventually felt comfortable, even confident in her new role
"I definitely got better, I got a lot of help," said Kennedy. "It was very nerve racking, a little stressful, but everyone was always encouraging and was supportive as I got better throughout the season."
"I can't say enough about her commitment level, her drive, her ability to push through those difficult moments when she battles with her confidence level," said Luppi. "She's a phenomenal kid with great spirit and hustle, all that good stuff. That's why I put her at setter, because I want someone who is even-keeled to be on the court all the time, running the offense."
Kennedy was not able to work out with any volleyball clubs in the off-season, but she did work out on her own, practicing her skills in the familiar surroundings of her backyard.
Tewksbury has already been practicing for two weeks in preparation for the full schedule ahead, and the junior setter is already enjoying what a normal season is like.
"It's been good so far," said Kennedy. "We still have masks, which is rough, but other than that it has been good. I feel like I'm stronger at the position now that I know what I'm doing."
That's a good thing because in case Kennedy was feeling totally safe in her job, three of the five new Redmen players on the roster this season are setters. Kennedy smiles and says that a good kind of pressure, one that will keep her sharp and focused on helping the team achieve success.
"I think we are going to be really good this year," said Kennedy. "We have a younger team but I think we are going to do good."
The season gets underway with a home match at Romano Court, Friday evening against Wilmington.