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New faces abound for Twinsburg volleyball squad

by Michael Leonard Sports Editor Published: August 24, 2016 12:00 AM

Only two athletes return from a Twinsburg High volleyball squad that went 13-9 last year and established a program first with a third straight district semifinal appearance.

Head coach Tonia Brennen is excited about this season and realizes the Tigers will miss a strong graduating class as Twinsburg utilizes last year's accomplishments as a stepping stone for the youth.

Last fall, the Tigers were ousted in the post season by Brecksville-Broadview Heights, which beat Twinsburg for the third time in the season, in the district semifinals at the Solon Division I tournament 25-13, 25-18, 25-18.

A top seed at Solon, The Bees club reached Ohio's Elite 8. The two Suburban League National Division rivals met three times-all wins for the Bees.

It marked the third straight season that the Lady Tigers, last year as a fifth seed, advanced to the Division I district semifinals.

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A staunch senior class will be missed.

Twinsburg lost five three-year starters in Zoe Rivet (setter), Madison Frey (libero), Allison Shipley (outside hitter), Rachel Schank (middle hitter), and Brooklyn Benkowski (defensive specialist).

All of those seniors started since they were sophomores and two more, defensive specialist Valerie Seese and right outside hitter Kayla Adams, will also be missed.

"We are young and rebuilding, but our outlook is very positive," said Brennen, who has lifted the program in her fourth season.

The Walsh University product has been a head coach for six years and this is her 10th overall.

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With all the newcomers to Twinsburg varsity, Brennen will work on the usual things she believes in

Twinsburg will focus on work ethic, mental focus and character, both on and off the court. Using sound strategy and defense, Brennen will get the athletes working to the best of their abilities.

"We will again be very small, but will focus on serve receive, defense, and hustle," said Brennen.

This season's opener is set for Aug. 27 at home in a tri-match with rival Solon and Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy.

Returning for the Tigers this season are senior Marie Piccone and junior Bella Varga.

Piccone was a starter in the district semis a year ago and has strong talent. She was a defensive specialist.

A four-year letter winner, Piccone will play libero for Twinsburg.

"Maria is our only returning starter and she has great serve/receive game, passing, and defensive play," noted the mentor. "She has a tough serve. We are looking for a lot of leadership this season."

Varga has solid program experience and will carry a much larger role this fall -- Brennen will be looking for her to lend some scoring punch as an explosive outside hitter.

"Bella will be our go-to player," said the coach. "She is a very well-rounded player and explosive. We are looking for lots of production offensively and defensively from her."

Other seniors on the roster are newcomers Shelbi Netzband and Jenna Ames.

Netzband is a defensive specialist for the Lady Tigers and Ames is a right-side hitter and a middle blocker.

"Shelbi (Netzband) is great on defense and will play a key role in the backrow this season and as a leader," said Brennen.

"Jenna Ames has improved immensely over the year," said the coach. "We're looking for lots of leadership and blocking capabilities. She has a strong arm offensively and a great serve."

A cast of juniors will make an impact this year for Twinsburg.

Cassidy Liotta is a junior setter who takes over for Rivet, who has had that role for fours, three as a starter. Rivet is now at Slippery Rock (Pa.) University.

"She (Liotta) will take over the setting role from Rivet a three-year starter," noted Brennen. "Cassidy has great hands and plays defense well, and we will look for her to lead and run the court."

Junior middle blockers Annaiya Ruffin and Camari Griffin could be explosive on both ends for the new-look Tigers.

"I am looking for lots of quick offense and blocking out of these two in the middle," said Brennen, of Ruffin and Griffin.

"They are working hard on creating a quick and well-rounded offense and being a force in the middle blocking."

Emily Adams is another junior who will have increased roles this year. She can play a host of positions, including right-side hitter and outside hitter.

"Emily offers tons of versatility as a player, the former setter fits in well on the right side," explained the coach. "She swings well from the right, and plays great defense and reads well.

"She is explosive on defense, all over the court and is working on a solid block," added Brennen, of Adams' development.

Sophomore Simone Gest is yet another gifted underclassman. She is an outside hitter and could be one of the team's biggest offensive threats.

"Simone has made strong progress over the year and is a great offensive attacker," said the Tiger mentor. "We are looking for a lot of offensive production."

Jill Spindler also looks to be a strong underclassman as she will play as a sophomore. Spindler is a setter.

"Spindler will see time as our second setter," said Brennen. "Jill offers height in the front row and can block. She has great hands and is working on the speed of the game."

Twinsburg was 6-8 in the Suburban League last fall, placing fourth in the national Division.

"This is a fun group of girls that are working hard to compete in the tough Suburban League," said Brennen.

"The league is tough and physically large," she added. "We are excited to see what the league will bring this year, and are looking forward to a great season. We have a lot of room to grow, gain experience with challenging play in our league."

Brennen brings in new coaching staff members in junior varsity coach Brandy Thomas and volunteer assistant coach Brynn Greene.

Thomas was the head coach at Painesville Riverside and Greene was a former Madison High head coach, who was an assistant at Riverside.

"Brandy brings new energy and experience, plus is very knowledgeable, energetic, and hard working," Brennen said.

"Brynn was the head coach at Madison for years and brings renewed energy and knowledge to the game to the staff," added the coach.

""The freshmen will stay consistent with (returning coach) Janelle Ross. Janelle brings consistency to the program, plus a great overall coach of life and the game, for the girls. I am happy to have such as strong staff in place."

Email: mleonard@recordpub.com

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