The coach has never played formal competitive sports. The same goes for about half the players on the roster.

And they couldn’t be any more excited.

Marnacook is the latest Maine high school to field a girls volleyball team as the sport continues to grow: Forty-four schools offered the sport last year, competed with only 14 in 2003, when the Maine Principals’ Association began sponsoring it.

As a first-year program, the biggest wins may not show up in the standings. Participation and enjoyment will be high priorities, according to coach Robyn Graziano.

“It’s my total philosophy that if they’re engaged in something at school, then they’re more likely to come to school and do better academically,” she said.

Graziano, a math teacher at Maranacook, co-coached the school’s club team last year and wound up with the head job when efforts to find a coach came up short. In stepped Graziano, whose coaching experience was limited to a stint guiding the math team and whose competitive sports experience is an informal Sunday rec volleyball league at the high school.


“It’s a big, big, big learning curve,” she said.

After some fundraising and grant writing efforts, the school purchased a net and pole set. Then, 30 athletes — half of whom have never played competitive sports before, according to Graziano — signed up.

Graziano is not going into this alone. Steve Poulin, a former high school and collegiate volleyball player, and Kelvin Hasch, a retired Greely head coach, have volunteered their time. Additionally, Cony coach Lindsey Morin sent Graziano a book filled with drills and other information. A couple Black Bears with junior league experience have also helped out with drills.

 Maranacook is not treading into this lightly; the Black Bears’ first scrimmage thus month was against Gardiner, which reached the Class B final last year. While everyone was nervous, Graziano said they came away knowing what to work on.

 “it’s really different when you’re practicing,” Graziano said. “You really don’t know it until you’re in a real game situation, so it was really great that we could get a scrimmage with Gardiner. …  But our varsity players got to stand up against a really good varsity team so they really got to see what powerful serves were like, they had some really great spikers. The girls got to see how a ball can come at them, and they learned how to be treated to that.”

Graziano will be relying on seniors Lillee Tibbetts (setter, right-side hitter) and Jada Deah (outside hitter) and juniors Ava Candage (setter) and Lilly Brosey (right-side hitter) to guide the Bears on the court.


• • •

Speaking of Gardiner, the Tigers lost seven seniors, including 6-foot-4 middle blocker Lizzy Gruber, to graduation after last year’s bunch went 17-1 and reached the first state final in program history, where it lost to Yarmouth. But fifth-year coach Tiffany Ouellette isn’t panicking despite the roster overhaul.

About “six or seven” freshmen turned out for preseason training and have given Ouellette flashbacks of her stellar Class of ’23.

“Their class actually really reminds me of Lizzy Gruber’s class,” Ouellette said, “because Lizzy’s class, when they were freshmen, I said, ‘This team is going to be good when they’re seniors,’ and it’s kinda funny how to circle of life continues, because when they (Class of ’23) leave, I have this class coming in, and I said, ‘This class is going be good when they’re seniors.’”

Two freshmen made the varsity roster: Lila Anderson and Abi Marlowe.  The Tigers bring back senior Yana Montell (outside hitter), an all-Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference first team selection; juniors Danica Martin (defensive specialist) and Cam Chadbourne (outside hitter); and sophomore Julie Folsom (defensive specialist/outside hitter). Everyone else is new to the varsity, Ouellette said.

Gardiner’s Danica Martin serves during a volleyball scrimmage on Aug. 22 in Readfield. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“I hate the word ‘rebuilding,’ but in a sense it is kind of a rebuilding year,” said Ouellette, the 2022 KVAC co-coach of the year. “But this team, I feel, is also going to hold their own. … The team I had last year had been playing together for four years. So now we have to learn how to play and coach a new group of girls. And this group is very athletic and very coachable; it’s just gong to take some time to get them trained.”


Cony is also going through a transition phase after going 8-7 last year and reaching the Class B tourney. Morin, the coach, has four first-year members on her 10-player roster, which also includes three athletes woh split between varsity and JV last year.

“We have a lot of talented girls that know their positions but they key is going to be playing together,” Morin said.

The Rams return senior Sequora Kelley and juniors Addie Lebel (middle blocker) Olivia Olsen (middle blocker) and Cassandra Lewis (libero). But like Gardiner and Maranacook, Cony is working on its communication skills and Morin hopes the team will show improvement as the season goes on.

“We played in a round-robin with four different teams, so that was a great way to see how they’re working together, what to improve on, communicating, being loud and just finding our groove for sure,” Morin said.

Messalonskee, which went 12-3 last season and reached the Class B tourney, has a new coach in Dan Juilli. The Eagles lost eight seniors to graduation. The Eagles reached the Class B quarterfinals last fall, where it dropped a tight 3-2 decision to York.

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