By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
The current incarnation of the St. John volleyball team is beginning to look a little bit like the Heralds of the past. And that’s a good thing.
St. John remained unbeaten with a 25-22, 25-8, 25-20 victory over visiting Fairport on Wednesday, emulating the way coach Stephanie Kubec’s teams have opened seasons throughout her tenure.
“Nicole (Pawlowski) is on the staff,” Kubec said. “She brings a lot. She’ll say, ‘Hey, this is how we used to do it and this is how you need to do it.’
“We are bringing old school back. Tonight was closer than I thought it would’ve been, but Fairport is quite good. The girls are making adjustments and playing good volleyball. They’re making plays. That’s something we haven’t done well (in recent seasons).
“It’s just like years ago, us being unbeatable.”
The Heralds (7-0, 3-0 in Lake Effect Conference) aren’t just unbeaten, they’re unscratched.
“We haven’t even lost a set yet,” Kubec said.
There is one component keeping this most recent St. John team from being considered among the company of those great teams of the past.
“I wish we had that swagger,” Kubec said. “We talked about that. I told them I don’t care if they’re 18-0 or 0-18. Every school wants to beat them. It doesn’t matter who the school is or how big it is, (my girls) have to come out with confidence. That’s something we don’t have and it’s something we’re trying to build into them.”
Reilly DeGeorge leads a front line also consisting of Mackenzie Stenroos and Alivia Cimorelli that can be dangerous to most teams the Heralds face. Kubec uses them as judiciously as possible.
“We run kind of a triangle,” Kubec said. “Our three main hitters always have one rotation when they’re up (at the net) by themselves and two rotations where they’re up there with one of the other two.”
DeGeorge was 32 of 42 spiking with 17 kills against the Skippers while Cimorelli was 23 of 23 with eight kills and Stenroos was 17 of 19 with six kills. Alicia Ngiraingas and Reilly DeCato each added two kills.
“I think those three (DeGeorge, Cimorelli and Stenroos) having played together for so long, they do understand each other. That’s the key of it.”
The way DeGeorge plays brings comparisons of the past and Stenroos is beginning to bring on some of those comparisons, too.
“I love that Reilly will go for any ball, it doesn’t matter if it’s a good set or a bad set,” Kubec said. “I tell her to make adjustments and she says she will. Then she goes out, gets a bad set and still swings like a maniac. I love it!
“That’s just like Kaitlyn Tinney. She swings at everything. That’s going old school. Tonight, it was the same thing for Mackenzie.”
Feeding those maniacal swings is setter Caroline Kovacs, who is new to the position this season.
“She’s the new quarterback of the team,” Kubec said. “She’s fresh to the position. She knows what we have to have offensively and defensively. She’s done a nice job mixing it up.
“Today, she was phenomenal. I think this was the turning point for her.”
Kovacs was 75 of 77 setting.
What makes the strong setting and spiking possible is a good defense. The Heralds have excelled in that area and are only getting better.
“We finally got Emily Powers (ACL) back, she was released just last week,” Kubec said. “She’s starting to come into her own. With her back, it’s adding confidence to the rest of the team.
“Alicia and Jordan (Scott) have really stepped up on defense for us.”
Stenroos was 23 of 23 passing, Cimorelli and DeGeorge were both 10 of 10, Powers was 18 of 24, Scott was 7 of 9 and Kovacs was 11 of 14.
The Heralds’ X-factor to this point has been DeCato, who comes out of nowhere to provide a big play when it’s needed.
“She’s been huge for us,” Kubec said. “Against Newbury, we were down in the third set and Reilly made several plays right at the end to give us the win.
“She gets blocks at key times. She comes off the bench and adds to our defense and blocking. She’s had a big influence in us being 7-0.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.