BRISTOL - As girls volleyball returns to play a full schedule this year, Bristol Central will look to recreate the success it had in 2020, where a pair of losses to Bristol Eastern were the only stains on an 11-2 campaign.
Putting together as many wins may be a challenge for the Rams, however, after losing five starting seniors from last season including first team all-state player Emily Ericson. Junior Madison Lodovico will be the only returning starter for head coach Lance Pepper, who said he will be looking primarily to his junior class to take over the team this year.
“We’re returning some varsity experience, we’re returning one [player] who started every game for us,” Pepper said. “We have a few other players who received some varsity experience over the course of last season, so we’re relatively young, but it’s a good, cohesive group. They’re just looking forward to being in the gym every single day looking to get better and striving for a great season.”
The girls will have to wear masks while playing again this season, which many found inconvenient. But Pepper expects masks to be far less of a problem this season now that everyone has a year of experience from the last high school season and playing with their club teams.
The upgrade from last season that has the team most excited is getting to play a wider variety of teams than the small localized pod it played against in 2020. The Rams open their season Thursday on the road against RHAM, which won its fourth CCC Championship in a row and reached the semifinals of the Class L state tournament in 2019. They follow that with their home opener against 2019 Class L champion Avon and then face Danbury. Central will host Bristol Eastern on Oct. 4 and then travel to the other side of the city to face the Lancers on Oct. 25.
“I think we’re really looking forward to seeing some great competition over the course of the season,” Pepper said. “There are some new teams we haven’t played in quite a few years and some teams I don’t know that we’ve ever played before. I think going into a match against a new team is always exciting because you never know what you’re going to get out of that team. I also think this year, from a scouting perspective, you don’t know who lost who and you don’t know who’s really on their roster. It’s almost a fresh slate every time you step in the gym with the various teams that we’re going to be able to play.”
Despite the lack of returning experience, Pepper is building a program that is continually improving and creating a culture that is being passed on every year. While many of his juniors did not play very much prior to this season, he still expects they will become a cohesive team on the court.
“Our entire junior class, I’m looking for them to really step up and take control of the floor,” Pepper said. “I’m just looking for them to continue to mesh and continue to gel and hopefully we’ll see how far we’ll be able to go with the program this year.”
Pepper believes “the ceiling is the limit with this team,” and they have a schedule that can prove it. With several players that play volleyball all year, he truly believes in his team’s talent to compile a successful season.
“Coming out of our tryouts, I think our energy is pretty good,” Pepper said. “We just came out of a good practice [Wednesday], the energy was high. There was a lot of communication, a lot of positive energy. I’m looking forward to where that takes us throughout the course of the season.”
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org.