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Natick - Local Town Pages

NHS Volleyball Team Tourney-bound In Spite Of Rebuilding

Natick’s volleyball captains are, from left, Ava Fosberg, Lauren Hallah, Kylie Woo, Aya Munger, and Leah Austin. 

Staff Sports Writer

Rebuilding is rarely a word that makes one think in positive terns.
But, Natick High volleyball coach Peter Suxho wasn’t shy about using the term when the Redhawks started preseason workouts in August and September. “We’re a young team and we’re rebuilding after losing seven seniors to graduation,’’ he said.
Those seniors helped Natick compile an 11-5 regular season record and their skills were a factor in the playoffs where the Redhawks advanced to the round of 16 where they lost to Lincoln-Sudbury, the state runner-up.
The 2023 edition of Natick High’s volleyball program is indeed in rebuilding mode with five sophomores on the 12-player roster. But, with the state tournament about to begin, Suxho and his forces are in a good position for a tourney berth. The Redhawks were 6-3 at Local Town Pages deadline and were at No. 10 in the power rankings.
“We have six seniors, one junior and five sophomores on the squad,’’ Suxho noted. “Hard work and staying focused are what gets a team into the tournament. Playing with desire and energy is a plus and I always stress the importance of offense. An offensive team can be your best defense.’’
The Redhawks may have been young and inexperienced in pre-season practice but they’ve relied on other attributes to achieve their 6-3 record. “Our girls have good technique and a high volleyball IQ,’’ said Suxho who’s in his 19th year as Natick’s coach. “Our work ethic and athleticism are strong, we’ve developed mental toughness and our team chemistry has improved.’’
Natick’s five senior captains are a key to helping the Redhawks go from rebuilding to likely tourney participants.
They include Aya Munger (setter), Leah Austin (middle hitter), Ava Fosberg (outside hitter), Lauren Hallah (outside hitter) and Kylie Woo (libero). “The captains lead by example on and off the court,’’ Suxho said. “They also are vocal and supportive and they communicate effectively with all the players.
Munger and Austin are experienced second-year starters. “Aya is a confident setter,’’ Suxho said. “She’s consistent, has good court sense and controls the tempo. Leah is also confident. A good blocker, she hits hard and she hits smartly.’’
Fosberg, Hallah and Woo are all starters. “Ava was the first substitute off the bench last year,’’ Suxho said. “She’s got a strong work ethic, she’s focused and she’s a solid attacker who hits smartly. Lauren is a powerful hitter and a very good server. Kylie has experience, serves well, utilizes technique and has a high volleyball IQ,’’     
Senior Marianne Bouchereau (outside hitter) and junior Eva Sotiri (right-side hitter/setter) are key contributors. “Marianne has experience and is an all-around competitor,’’ Suxho offered. Eva can play in the front row or the back line. A left-hander, she works hard and jumps very well in the front row.’’
The sophomores include Katelyn Huie (outside hitter), Scarlett Jones (libero), Kiera Moriarty (middle hitter), Aiya Dottin (middle hitter) and Ruby Jasper (setter).
“Aiya is the best jumper we have,’’ Suxho said. “She’s tall and has adapted to her role as a starter. “Our other sophomores will provide depth. They’re young but they have lots of potential. In the long run, all our sophomores will help the team.’’
Munger and Austin offered their thoughts on Natick’s ability to put rebuilding in the team’s past.
“In practice, from day one, all the upperclassmen worked with the sophomores to ensure they were comfortable asking questions,’’ Munger said. “Every captain teamed with a sophomore who played a similar position. We took them under our wing and helped them with any struggles or concerns.’’
Austin said she knew qualifying for tourney play would be a challenge but she also was acutely aware that pre-season workouts and scrimmages would help smooth out any wrinkles. And, having five senior captains with experience would be an asset. “We knew we had a young team going into pre-season practice but it was clear we were growing,’’ she emphasized. “A good sign of progress was having an excellent scrimmage against Wayland, which is a good team.’’
Both Munger and Austin emphasized that Suxho leans on his captains for leadership and to familiarize younger players with the system.
“Coach Suxho stresses that his captains must be a strong leadership group,’’ Austin said. “He expects us to be responsible for building team chemistry.’’ Munger agrees and adds that “our coach wants his captains to be role models and to help everyone to execute the plays correctly.’’
Another key for Natick in overcoming inexperience is the number of younger players who competed for club teams and worked in the off-season at camps and clinics.
“Coach Suxho expects his players to be loud, cheering often, and being energetic,’’ said Austin. “Maintaining energy and a positive attitude are the key elements to earning a tournament berth.’’
Suxho and volleyball are as natural as apple pie and ice cream. He coached the Albanian National Team before he arrived in the U.S. in 1996. And, before joining the Natick staff to coach the boys and girls teams in 2005, he guided Millis High to a pair of state championships in 2003. The Mohawks’ boys and girls teams became state champs that year.
During Suxho’s tenure as the Redhawks’ boys coach, his teams have won six Bay State Conference titles, six sectional crowns and one state championship. Three times, in 2006, 2010 and 2019, the Natick boys squad was the state runners-up.
A coach who’s a legend in volleyball circles, Suxho is acutely aware that competing in the Bay State Conference is no picnic.
“Newton North is the defending state champion and Needham and Brookline are also difficult opponents,’’ he said. “Those schools all have teams with talent and tradition. It’s important to be ready when playing a team in the BSC. The league is well-balanced and it’s one of the best conferences in the state.’’