After last season, Johnston volleyball coach Greta Lalli retired from the program she had started 10 years before. But when a new coach didn’t work out, Lalli got a call.
“They asked me if I would come back,” she said. “So I jumped at it.”
Now Lalli is back at the helm, and though she’s certainly comfortable in the position, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind so far. Lalli’s first interaction with her team came at an Injury Fund game, and she’s only had two practices with them. The Panthers are set to open the season on Friday.
“It’s definitely been thrown together a little bit, but it’s not as chaotic as I thought it was going to be,” Lalli said. “I’m not starting right from scratch and I have a great assistant coach, Ed Saravo. So we’re just working through everything right now.”
When thing settle down, Lalli is hoping the Panthers can build on last year’s successful season. Johnston went 7-7 last year and won a play-in game for a postseason berth. The two years prior, Johnston had gone winless.
It won’t be easy to repeat that success. The Panthers lost key players Alaina DeNoncour, Indy Cantone and Megan Macera to graduation. But there are some solid building blocks in the fold, enough for Lalli to be optimistic.
“They were huge, huge players for us last year,” Lalli said. “Luckily the juniors last year who are now seniors are really stepping up. They’re fantastic leaders and they look really good on the court.”
The cornerstones are the team’s setters, Cara Georgio and Erin Tvenstrup. Georgio, a senior, was a starter last year and is the team’s strongest returning player. Tvenstrup, a sophomore, is ready to contribute after playing well with the JV squad last year.
The Panthers also have Ashley Peterson returning as a starter, and she’ll be joined by Brianna Ruggiero on the front line. Lalli expects both to be strong hitters.
Sophomore Alex DiRaimo is also back after seeing a lot of time last year, and she brings a lot of versatility to the table.
“She’s good at everything,” Lalli said. “She’s as athletic as they come.”
Lalli also expects sophomore Victoria Parente to make an impact as she comes up from the JV team.
The rest of the squad is less experienced, but the Panthers won’t be lacking depth.
“I have about 18 new girls who came out, and that’s fantastic,” Lalli said. “It’s a lot of first-time players but they’re learning.”
The Injury Fund afforded Lalli a good opportunity to see the team play together. She’s putting in her system now and it shouldn’t take long for the Panthers to get comfortable.
There may be some growing pains as Johnston tries to forge a new identity, but the Panthers are still optimistic.
“I think the returning girls are going to be a little nervous, because they were so used to having the seniors out there last year,” Lalli said. “But I think they’ll be fine. My expectations are sort of high because they have the varsity experience. I just want to see them get better every match.”
Johnston will open the season Friday at 5:30 p.m. at Mt. Pleasant. After a Tuesday road game against West Warwick, the team’s home opener will be next Thursday at 5:30 p.m. against Hope.