By Kyle LoJacono
Bishop McLaughlin volleyball reached new heights last season.
The Hurricanes went 16-9, made the playoffs for the first time and won a postseason contest.
For fourth-year ‘Canes coach Doug Chinchar, the banner season was years in the making.
“Our first year we were bad,” Chinchar said. “We won two matches that year, and we were the third worst team in America. We beat the first and second worst teams in America.”
Chinchar, a setter/outside hitter at Ohio State University, coached at Academy of the Holy Names for seven years before retiring because he and his wife Sarah had two small kids.
When Sarah Regan, his boss at academy, became principal at Bishop she asked Chinchar to help find a coach.
“I said sure, and it ended up with me being the coach,” Chinchar said. He added, “We promised the school when we came we’d be here until our kids graduated, and they’re 4 and 6.”
Chinchar and Sarah, who set the career assists record while playing at the University of South Florida, worked to make the Hurricanes better, but they got a boost when Jess Johnson transferred from Land O’ Lakes in 2010. The outside hitter led all area athletes with 403 kills last season before signing with Norfolk State University.
“She took a big chance coming here,” Chinchar said. “When we left academy we had four or five kids going full ride to college every year. Jess was the first girl from our school to get a Division I scholarship and the first volleyball player to sign.”
The ‘Canes must replace Johnson, but Chinchar believes the overall talent this year can offset the loss.
“She was a lot of the offense, but we gained kids at a lot of other positions,” Chinchar said. “So, instead of being able to score at one or two positions, now we can score from four or five. Our passing will be better, our setting will be better, and the great thing is all these kids come back next year. We’re very young. We’ll win a bunch and we’ll lose some matches, but whoever beats us is going to be playing really well that night.”
A big addition is 6-foot sophomore middle hitter Alyssa Mathis, who transferred from Land O’ Lakes.
“I’m really excited because I think coming here I’ll be able to show what I can do,” Mathis said. “I want to play in college, so I think playing here will let me play with some other really good players.”
The Hurricanes also return key players like 5-foot-7 junior outside hitter Laura Vien, who has been on the squad since her freshmen year. Also back is sophomore libero Casey McColl.
“Starting as a freshman, I was just really scared,” McColl said. “Once I got used to it, I felt more comfortable.”
Chinchar said the experience gained in 2011 is invaluable for the ‘Canes.
“Last year, the girls didn’t really know how to win,” Chinchar said. “Now we’re learning how to win. Now the expectations are that we’re going to win some matches, and we are.”
Bishop still has a big obstacle to the program’s first district championship in the form of Tampa Prep.
The Terrapins went 17-11 last season, including straight-set victories over the ‘Canes in the regular season, in the Class 3A-District 8 final and in the regional semifinals. Tampa Prep has also won 15 state championships and has made the postseason the last 12 years.
The Terrapins have the tradition, but the Hurricanes are determined to make their own history.
“I think our goal is to beat Tampa Prep, and I think we can either do it this year or get very close,” Vien said. “I’m really excited to be able to say that.”
Bishop opens the regular season at home against Academy at the Lakes on Aug. 27 at 6 p.m. The 3A-8 tournament is at Seffner Christian Oct. 22 to 25, with the championship match on Oct. 25 at 6:30 p.m.
Bishop McLaughlin roster
Player Pos. Yr.
Jenny Astell DS So.
Brooke Bailey S/OH Fr.
Leah DeMarco DS Sr.
Aileen Hnatiuk OH Jr.
Alexis Karpondinis OH So.
Alyssa Mathias MH So.
Casey McColl L So.
Karli Mezo RH So.
Sara Morrison S Jr.
Hannah Nyberg MH Sr.
Christie Petruzzelli OH So.
Malika Saffore S Jr.
Laura Vien OH Jr.