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CHSAA Brooklyn girls volleyball preview

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The goal for the Fontbonne Hall girls volleyball team for the last 13 years has been to beat heated rival Bishop Kearney. The Bonnies have been the Red Sox to the Tigers’ Yankees for more than a decade and Kearney hasn’t lost a league match in its last 179 tries.

But Fontbonne coach Linda Strong wants to make sure her players aren’t consumed by the rivalry, which also branches off into other sports and is neighborhood-based %u2013 Fontbonne is in Bay Ridge, while Kearney is in nearby Bensonhurst.

“Of course, the ultimate is that the streak is going to be broken [eventually], but I don’t think they should focus on that,” Strong said. “It can be a distraction.”

The Bonnies came the closest they ever have to beating the Tigers last year. Fontbonne went up 2-0 in the teams’ first match, but couldn’t put its rival away. Kearney came back to win in a five-set marathon.

Strong’s team did get a certain measure of revenge. It became the first Brooklyn team to beat Queens power Archbishop Molloy in the CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens quarterfinals and then handed eventual champion St. Francis Prep its lone league set loss of the season.

“The thing is, you don’t want to be second place in Brooklyn,” Strong said, “and that’s been what Fontbonne has been for how many years. It’s not about beating Kearney. It’s about winning every game.”

It could conceivably happen for the Bonnies this year. Strong says this team is the best she’s had since taking over in 2007. Five players are back, including setter Sarah McCarthy, libero Justina Johnson and outside hitter Brianna Johnston, who impressed as a sophomore last year coming up from JV. The 5-foot-8 Kara Egan will be team’s go-to hitter after moving from middle to outside.

“She’s really wailing the ball,” Strong said.

There are some new wrinkles, too. Fontbonne is going to run a 6-2 with McCarthy and fellow setter Katie Lang, who is also a solid hitter. The Bonnies also have some size in middle hitters Amanda Gladowski (6-1) and Lauren Ganun (5-11).

Fontbonne was a scrappy, defensive team last year, but Strong said the offense has really picked up and she expects to be right there with Kearney in CHSAA Brooklyn.

“People are starting to come into their own and understanding the idea of hitting the ball hard,” the coach said. “At any time, I have five strong hitters on the floor.”

There’s surely only one team on their mind when they’re doing it.

“I think this year, [beating Kearney] is more than a possibility,” Strong said.

Last season, Bishop Loughlin was the third team in a solid division, but the Lions are in rebuilding mode with the graduation of solid players like star outside hitter Robin Renado.

They’ll also be getting used to a new coach %u2013 sort of. Eileen Gillen, who has guided Loughlin since 2007, gave birth in August and probably won’t return until next season. In her place will be her predecessor, Angela Proce, the Fort Greene school’s athletic director. Proce was the girls volleyball coach from 1994 to 2006.

“The first year I became AD I was crying,” Proce said. “Volleyball is my love. I missed it.

Elisa Randall’s play will be integral to Loughlin having a good year. Proce said the 5-foot-8 outside hitter can do just about everything, including set at times. Flora White will play either outside or middle and 5-foot-10 middle hitter Laura Evans, who played well in spots last year, is a key. Alychell Waith will set and Johnnise Lopez and Denise Seva will share time at libero.

“This may all change,” Proce said with a laugh.

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