WEST WINDSOR: Pirates, Knights aim high

By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
The West Windsor-Plainsboro North and West Windsor-Plainsboro South girls volleyball teams combined for one of the winningest years between the programs last fall.
The Knights were 17-13 last year under head coach Joe Schweitzer, while the Pirates went 15-12 under their coach Dan Macionis. Included in the Pirates’ 15 wins were two over the Knights, and they have already topped their sister school in this year’s preseason.
“We have most of our starters back,” Macionis said. “Both of our outside hitters, one of our middles is back, our opposite is back. One of our defensive specialists is back. We just graduated a few seniors that started. We have most of our core was back. We’re looking to improve on what we did last year.”
The Knights are almost the exact opposite. They graduated their core led by Ashley Yao, who was a third-team All-Group III selection.
“Ashley was a special player,” Schweitzer said. “We’re playing outside by committee. I’m hoping as we grow, we get better.
“I want to be like a bunch of mosquitoes. Instead of sledgehammer, we have a ball hammer.”
The two rivals will meet today in an early-season meeting, one that both teams will be geared up for this year.
“It’s definitely still a big deal for them,” Macionis said. “On Friday, we open up with them. The girls are always excited about that. They were excited to show how they could play even in the scrimmage.”
The highlight for the two teams comes later in the year. The Pirates host WW-P North in the annual Serve Up Hope game Oct. 21. This year, proceeds from it will go to Autism Speaks.
“It’s a great thing,” Macionis said. “I had heard all good things about it, but until I was actually involved in it, you don’t know how incredible it is.”
Both teams hope to be angling toward the state tournament by then. For the Knights, it will be a process of building up a team that was hit hard by graduation. They will be working this season to find experience.
“That’s one of the reasons I play so many matches,” Schweitzer said. “Our preseason is over. We know what we have to work on. We have four days. (Today) we have a quad. It’s at home with South, Monroe and St. John Vianney.”
There will be new roles for many of the Knights. The most experienced players back from a year ago are Vrinda Gupta, Preeti Methuku and Zoe Zhuang. Most of the rest of the team saw spot duty as substitutes. This year is their chance to showcase their skills.
“It’s good for them,” Schweitzer said. “We’ve been at it since Aug. 10. Hopefully we’ll get it.”
The Knights are hoping that having seen some success last year has rubbed off onto this year’s group. Many of them were contributors to the practices, but just haven’t gotten the game action of last year’s starters.
“Even the girls that were practicing against them all year long saw the success and I think that will carry them,” Schweitzer said. “Where we have the most work to do is that ability to close out a set — that final push. That’s really what we’re struggling with now, that confidence level to close out.”
The quad meet today will help the Knights start to take shape of how they can compete in the varsity matches.
“We’re going to win on defense and we’re going to win on making you play the ball more often,” Schweitzer said. “We’re not going to win on power. We spend most of the time working on being in the right spots and understanding hitters and passing and serving well.”
Schweitzer has seen his team improve through every scrimmage and there are steps to improving every day.
“Our movement on the court has been getting better and better and better every practice,” he said. “That’s encouraging because it’s going to win it for us. Our serve receive is getting better. Even through the first four scrimmages, our serve receive stats are better than last year. It’s that experience we need now.”
The Pirates do have the experience. They lost a couple of starters, but have strong experience back led by setter Jinae Park, one of the best in the state. But it doesn’t stop there. Outsides Jiwon Kim and Lauren Frullo are back as is middle Kate Yuan.
“We have a little more depth than we did last year,” Macionis said. “On the outside positon, we have one sophomore and one junior. Caroline Sabin is a junior and Lillian Nose is a sophomore. At libero, we’ll be splitting time with freshman Niki Gadangi and junior Sally Wu. Maddie Lee is our other middle, she’s a junior. She’s very athletic. She had some time last year. We’re working on her to be a go-to girl to put the ball down for us.
“They definitely serve very well. Having a lot of senior leadership out there is a strength and working on playing smart will be a strength. They’re all good all-round players. We don’t have that one go-to person. They’re all capable of earning us the point.”
The Pirates won their division of the inaugural Central Jersey Interscholastic Volleyball League last year, and they’re happy that this year they will also have a year-end league tournament.
“Last year was the first year with it,” Macionis said. “We won our division and we’re hoping to do that again. We have a playoff this year. We’ll all go to Moorestown and the winner of that tournament will be the official league champion.
“We’re definitely looking to build on last year,” he added. “There were only a few games last year that I felt we should have and could have won. That’s something I’m bringing into this year — making sure we’re mentally tough for all comers, whether they’re No. 1 in the state, or not No. 1 in the state. They have to be ready for whoever is on the other side of the net.”
With so much experience back, the Pirates have an advantage to starting their season off a little ahead of some seasons. It should give them an advantage over some opponents.
“We’re trying to work on more fast paced offense, more advanced plays,” Macionis said. “Most of them played last year. They saw the basic stuff we were doing and they’re ready to step up their game and play a little better and hopefully a little quicker on offense.”
After opening the season in the quad meet, the Pirates are looking forward to playing in the Moorestown tournament Sept. 12. It’s a long day that gives the team lots of work together and the chance to start to see their potential. WW-P South has spent much of the preseason talking about how they can realize their full potential and advance farther than last year’s first round of states.
“We definitely have to execute,” Macionis said. “We’ve been talking about it in the preseason, executing no matter who they’re playing. I know a game we definitely shouldn’t have lost and it affected our seeding and we ended up playing the No. 3 team in the state in the first round and were overmatched. We’re hoping to learn from that to have a good strong regular season. If they play well and start working on our offense and start going fast, I hope to go a couple rounds in the playoffs.” 