Friday, March 5, 2021

Marco girls “Take It” to the extreme

Alex Mergue and Coach Maria DelVecchio.

Alex Mergue and Coach Maria DelVecchio.

By Gina Sisbarro

That’s extreme as in Naples Juniors. Extreme Team Volleyball. These dedicated young women include Brianna (Booey) Blassneck, Cassidy Penzo, Alex Meurgue, Joann Nguyen, Samantha Howard, and Erin Homuth (Erin plays Regional Club Ball for Naples Juniors, but deserves a mention being a Charter School stand-out last year).

These are the women who live on the island and currently play for Lely High School, First Baptist Academy and Charter School Middle School. The Naples Juniors gives these young women the opportunity to play competitive volleyball and showcase their talents to prospective colleges and universities.

Naples Juniors, one of the oldest existing clubs in Collier County, started approximately ten years ago with Anne Fredette, currently the league Business Director and Eric Pelts, former Lely High School Varsity Coach. Coach Rich Hubbard came on board nine years ago looking for a club team to send his own Naples High School volleyball players to. After shopping around he felt Naples Juniors had the best fit for his girls and came on board to help as a coach. Currently he is the Director of Player and Coach Development.

This weekend was the first tournament of a five month long season for the ladies. Try-outs happen right after their high school or middle school season. They receive a few weeks off and it’s back to work on the courts at a much higher skill level, fast pace drill sets, conditioning, and play formation and transition work. To play club is not for the lazy athlete, you need to dedicate yourself to sport and come to practice ready to work hard with a 150 % effort and attitude.

Not surprising knowing the coaching staff and what they have accomplished themselves. Coach Hubbard achieved his 300-career win this season. Under his belt are eight district championships, five conference championships, two regional championships and a state runner up. This season Coach Hubbard takes a break from his 18-year-old squad and coaches the 15 year olds.

He handed over the older players to Coach Maria DelVecchio, a high school and college stand

Left to right: Samantha Howard, Coach Rich Hubbard and Joann Nugyen. Submitted photos

Left to right: Samantha Howard, Coach Rich Hubbard and Joann Nugyen. Submitted photos

out herself who played setter for Notre Dame College. Maria holds many records herself from the glory days. She is the head Varsity and JV coach for Palmetto Ridge High School and has produced the most successful season with both teams in the history of the high school.

The coach for the 14 year olds is Erin Oberlin a former Naples High School stand out who played for St. Leo’s College in Tampa. Erin herself was a Naples Jr. player and currently assists Coach Hubbard with the Naples High School Volleyball Team. Both Maria and Erin are elementary school teachers for Collier County.

So what does it take to play for some of the best coaches in the region? Coach DelVecchio says “Good rallies and knowing that the girls pushed through the play whether we gained or lost a point. You want to raise the level of every player. If we lose a match we gage the level of our competition. If they are more experienced, our weaknesses get exposed and we take that as a lesson learned for the next match. We also take a look at what our strengths were. In our first match we were stronger offensively which led to a win. Our first match we “took it” in two, 25-23 and 26 – 24. When asked about her Marco girls, coach had nothing to say but praises. Alex Meurgue is injured for this tournament due to a sprained ankle. I can truly say we miss her arm! She has one heck of a swing. Cassidy Penzo comes on board as the rookie being a JV setter for Lely High School. She has come a long way from when she first joined us. It’s difficult for a young player to run more complex offenses, however Cassidy has stepped up to the plate for the challenge. She will be a changed player by the end of the season. Booey one of the oldest return players on the team has taken on the challenge to play libero. It’s not easy

Cassidy Penzo and Brianna Blassneck.

Cassidy Penzo and Brianna Blassneck.

changing up a position, however, Booey is always up for the challenge and she has taken on a leadership role which I will depend on.

Coach Hubbard was all smiles when he talked of his girls. “I call Joanne Nguyen our sunshine. What a positive personality. She will do anything I ask her and never complain, she always has a sweet smile on her face. She gives off great energy for the team. Samantha Howard the only Charter School Player who went to First Baptist is returning for her second year as our Middle Hitter. I’m pleased with Sammy, we are setting a lot of 1’s this year (set to the middle), which is not easily done for a younger team, and Sam is handling it nicely.”

Each team finished strong in their division and was packing their bags for the play-offs on Sunday. Coach Hubbard was excited for the play-off schedule. ” The 14 extremes went 3 – 0 into the play-offs and the 18’s and 15’s went 2-1 into their play-offs. This year we have new faces and a mix of teams meaning, these girls come from all over Collier County. For example, we got three different high school teams playing for the 18’s and they have to adjust to one another after being each other’s competitors during the school year. It’s great to see the girls come together.” When asked why Booey plays and has committed four years to club ball she said, “I play because when I’m on the court that is all that matters and I couldn’t think of a better club to play for than Naples Juniors.”

If parents wish to investigate the club you can log onto their website at Naples Juniors is one of the best that has sent many of its players off to college on scholarships. Naples Juniors are there for the parents as well as the players. College recruitment is tough going and as Coach Hubbard says, “There is a team out there for every girl and we will help you find one.”

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