Hopedale Volleyball Team Aiming For Deep Tourney Run

KEN HAMWEY, Staff Sports Writer
Issue Date: 
November, 2019
Article Body: 

Andrew Mainini has been Hopedale High’s volleyball coach for seven years and the Blue Raiders have qualified for the playoffs in every one of those seasons.
This year’s squad, which numbers only nine, again has earned another playoff berth and at Local Town Pages deadline the Blue Raiders had a 10-3 record and were fine-tuning their technique in preparation for what they hope is a deep tourney run.
The best playoff advance Hopedale has had in Mainini’s previous six years occurred in 2017 when that squad won the Sectional championship before bowing in the State semifinals to Bourne.
During his seven years at Hopedale’s helm, Mainini’s forces have relied on a variety of strengths. This year’s edition seems to have a good mix of assets.
“Our team is young but has experience,’’ Mainini said. “Five of our six starters are underclassmen. The girls have a high volleyball IQ, they’re also athletic and are very coachable.’’
Two other keys to the Blue Raiders’ success and their rich tradition are a pair of life lessons that Mainini emphasizes in practice and in game situations.
“Time management and resiliency are very important,’’ he noted. “The players understand the high level of commitment they have to give to the program. And, they also know that being resilient is a must. Resiliency means regrouping after a loss and bouncing back. Knowing how to improve one’s game after being told a starting role is going to someone else is also important.’’
Those life lessons mesh nicely with three attributes that Mainini admires when he’s assembling a roster — athleticism, a coachable nature and competitive drive. “Mental toughness is another key but that can be taught,’’ he said. “It’s tied to resiliency.’’
Hopedale’s three captains have resiliency and possess many of the qualities that keep the Blue Raiders in contention for post-season appearances. The trio includes senior middle hitters Maddie LaPrade and Kate Hockenbury and junior libero Bianca Fitch. LaPrade and Hockenbury are wrapping up their fifth varsity seasons of volleyball and Fitch is in her fourth year.
“Maddie is a positive, upbeat leader,’’ Mainini said. “She’s led the team in kills for the last two years. She jumps well, has a solid serve and her court awareness is excellent. Kate has a high volleyball IQ and does a fantastic job of reading our opposition’s offense. She’s been our top blocker for the last three years. Bianca’s athleticism is through the roof. I consider her the top female athlete in Central Mass. She’s pitched the softball team to two district titles and she was on our 2017 district championship team. Her volleyball IQ is high and she’s one of our top servers.’’
Senior Madison Duprey, who was No. 3 in kills last year, is a top-caliber outside hitter. “Madison has a strong arm,’’ Mainini said. “She hits hard and is also an aggressive server. She’s vocal and has fun playing volleyball.’’
Four sophomores are in the starting rotation. They include outside hitter Kelly Knowlton, defensive specialists Ashleigh Bourgeois and Kaylyn Boldy, and right-side hitter Gina Wilke.
“Kelly is a powerful player,’’ Mainini noted. “She’s got lots of athleticism and also has a high volleyball IQ. She moves to the ball well on defense and she’s a good utility player who can be utilized as a backup setter. She’s also a solid back-row player.’’
Mainini likes the versatility of his defensive specialists. “Ashleigh can hit at the net and can also play setter,’’ he noted. “Her arm extension and swing are very good. She’s very versatile. Kaylyn has a natural, smooth touch on the ball. She also has a high volleyball IQ and is an aggressive server. She likely will develop into a hitter.’’
Wilke has dynamic jumping ability that enables her to be a successful blocker. “Gina plays the net well and she gets on top of the ball making most of her hits go to the floor,’’ Mainini said. “She’s our best jumper.’’
Freshman setter Franny Fitch is Hopedale’s quarterback. One of the team’s fastest players, Mainini likes the way she takes charge. “We rely on Franny to get the ball to the hitters,’’ he said. “She’s so fast that she makes many athletic plays. A good technician, her moves are excellent.’’
Through 13 games, the leaders in kills are Duprey (72), Knowlton (65) and Hockenbury (61); Bianca Fitch is tops in digs (197) and aces (62); Franny Fitch leads in assists (248); and Hockenbury is first in blocks (21).
An argument could be made that the players’ consistent numbers are linked to Mainini’s background in volleyball. He played as a defensive specialist at Milford High for four varsity seasons. And, while he was an undergraduate at Holy Cross, he started a club team and played for three seasons. He also coached the club team for two years.
The 30-year-old coach, who taught Spanish at Hopedale High for six years, now is teaching English Language Learners at Milford High. He has his masters degree in Spanish from Middlebury College in Vermont.
Teaching is his profession and he obviously does that well. Coaching volleyball, however, is an outlet that provides Mainini with another way to help students excel. And, his coaching philosophy focuses on a common-sense approach to athletics.
“Winning is important and so, too, is reaching one’s potential and enjoying a sport,’’ he emphasized. “When a team is winning, that usually means the players are reaching their peak and having fun.’’
There are only nine players on Hopedale’s volleyball roster and they all contribute and get playing time. And, Andrew Mainini puts their roles in perspective when he says: “I consider all nine of my players as starters.’’