September 16, 2013

Volleyball Preview: Powerhouses returning as new programs bloom

Thornton Academy is among several schools 'going full speed ahead' in adding a new girls' sport.

By Steve Craig scraig@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Mackenzie Foley is a senior at Thornton, as the team embarks on its first year as a varsity program. Greely became the first southern Maine team to win a state title in 2003.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Thornton Academy Coach Keith O’Leary makes a point to his team during practice. Thornton had 90 prospects show up this fall; O’Leary is keeping about 75, spread between varsity, junior varsity and freshman teams.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Senecal said he's heard Gardiner has a club team and there is interest at Class A schools Brunswick and Mt. Ararat. And yet several coaches said they are surprised the sport hasn't grown faster.

"I don't understand it. It's a cheap sport. You're using a gym that's basically vacant in the fall season," Scarborough Coach Jon Roberts said.

When Kennebunk started its program in 2006 it became the sixth southern Maine team with volleyball, said Rams Coach Craig Richardson, joining Greely, Scarborough, Gorham, Biddeford, and Yarmouth.

Over the next six years another half-dozen southern schools created varsity teams: Falmouth, Cape Elizabeth, North Yarmouth Academy, and most recently Windham, Lake Region and Cheverus.

Hasch said he suspects the tight economy makes athletic directors hesitant to propose adding any sport. He estimates the annual cost to run a program is roughly $10,000 to cover a coaching stipend, busing and officials.

"They all look at our program and we probably spend the most," Hasch said, noting that his booster group raises $12,000 a year to defray costs for out-of-state scrimmages and assistant coaches. "But we started poor when we started the program."

Other factors that could curb growth are a small pool of certified and available referees for high school matches and few middle school programs.

Scarborough's Roberts believes volleyball -- and other sports like swimming and gymnastics -- would benefit from fewer restrictions on coaches working with varsity-age athletes in the club season.

"Maine is very restrictive compared to other states with regard to how much interaction players can have with their coaches outside of the season," Roberts said.

"I work with a U14 team because I love coaching and can't work with the older girls, but more and more coaches are (choosing) between club teams and varsity teams."

Regardless of obstacles, Thornton Academy's O'Leary believes the sport is primed for a boost in participation.

"People are recognizing that it's a good spectator sport at a pretty low cost for the kids," O'Leary said.

"For the player it's getting some sneakers and some knee pads and a ball and they're ready to rock."

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or at:

scraig@mainetoday.com

Twitter: SteveCCraig

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