Staples girls volleyball coach Jon Shepro described last year's group as the best team he's ever coached. An immediate follow-up act to that may be a tough task, but a new team with a new identity will likely mean victories given the recent success of the program.
The team that went 22-3 and came within two sets of winning a Class LL championship last November will look a whole lot different this fall.
Gone are many of the pieces that contributed to that memorable ride to the FCIAC and state championship games. Outstanding hitters Amelia Brackett and Lauren Mushro, setter Ariana Sherman and defensive specialist Val Kirsch all left a lasting impact on the program.
"Seeing the captains last year and how great they were, and how well they led this team to quite an amazing season," senior co-captain Kaela O'Kelly said. "I think we're just trying to follow in their footsteps and the small things we saw them do; try to bring that to this team."
Hitters Elizabeth Knoll and O'Kelly are two of the few holdovers from last season who will look to set the right example for the younger players. Knoll placed second in the high jump at the FCIAC outdoor track meet in May, a skill that translates just fine to the volleyball court.
"(Knoll) has a lot of experience," Shepro said. "She's very athletic and strong, jumps pretty high and is one of our best offensive players."
The strong crop of FCIAC contenders that includes Darien (Oct. 15), Fairfield Ludlowe (Sept. 10) and Ridgefield (Sept. 17) all expect to contend again this season. Shepro is unsure where Staples slides into the mix with so many moving pieces.
"I don't know if we have an identity yet," Shepro said. "I don't know if we're going to be favorites or we're going to be underdogs. We'll let it play out before we start defining ourselves."
As a result of personnel changes, Staples will put more of its focus on defense and balance.
"We are really dynamic, strong in a lot of areas," Knoll said. "Last year we were more of an offensive team. We have a lot of girls that can play a lot of positions and that's going to be a strength for us."
Regardless of who is on the court, Shepro will likely get the best out of his players. Staples has a 69-21 record with Shepro at the helm.
"He wants to win more than anybody," Knoll said of the fifth-year coach. "He gives us the confidence and energy to go out there and win; and if we don't it's not the end of the world. At the end of the day we're 18 girls having fun and doing what we love."