BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — Preseason is underway for the Shenendehowa varsity girls’ volleyball team, but the players kept themselves busy during the summer.
Notably, during the second half of July, seven Plainsmen athletes represented the Iroquois-Empire Volleyball Association at the 2016 High Performance Championships, a USA Volleyball tournament event that brings together some of the best youth players from inside and outside of the country. From Shenendehowa, Julia Paliwodzinski, Nicole Adams, Rachel Millington, Charlotte Macken, Mia Waddell, Mary Talty and Olivia DeBortoli competed for IREVA teams at the July 19-23 event in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after a lengthy tryout process.
“That’s the most we’ve ever had go in one year,” Shenendehowa head coach Lori Kessler said of the seven Plainsmen athletes, all of whom also went to the championships last year, except DeBortoli and Macken.
This year’s High Performance tournament fields included teams from across the United States, as well as clubs from countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
“It’s the highest level of play,” said Kessler, whose program has won six consecutive Section II Class AA championships. “They get that experience of playing that high-level competition and they walk away having really gotten something from it.”
The seven Shenendehowa players were split between two age-based teams. Paliwodzinski, who had Millington as one of her teammates, said she gained more from her experience in 2016 than 2015, when the event was held in Iowa.
“There was definitely a big difference between last year and this year for me,” she said. “I was much more comfortable with it this time.”
Millington and Paliwodzinski were on an older IREVA team than Adams, DeBortoli, Macken, Talty and Waddell.
“[Playing together] was really good for them,” Paliwodzinski said. “Now they’re all back here and can share [what they learned] with everyone else.”
Macken said the first couple of days of play were a learning experience for her crew. After a bit of action, though, the Plainsmen players were able to raise their game to where it needed to go.
“I expected it to be fast-paced. … Once we were there and a few games in, it got much easier,” Macken said. “It seemed normal then, especially with the girls I play with everyday from Shen.”
Those seven IREVA players were also in attendance at the Aug. 8-12 Shen Girls Volleyball Camp. More than 80 girls attended the camp, including athletes ranging from rising fourth-graders to seniors.
“We set up a big portion of the camp around stations and we teach every athlete the same thing, but we modify it for each level,” said Kessler, who is starting her 10th season as the Plainsmen’s head coach. “We do a lot with skill work and trying to break down the aspects of the game so they can understand them better and be more excited to play.”
Paliwodzinski said Shenendehowa’s success placing athletes onto this summer’s IREVA squads had already made the Plainsmen more excited for their 2016 season.
“It shows we’re one of the best [programs] in our region and that gives us the confidence we need going into the school season,” she said.