Boys volleyball: St. Joseph looks to reverse role

St. Joseph's Ian Argento delivers a spike. — David G. Whitham photo
St. Joseph's Ian Argento delivers a spike. — David G. Whitham photo

If winning can become contagious, so, on a negative side, can losing.

St. Joseph's second-year boys volleyball coach Allen Aldrich, an alumnus and former player at the school, has changing what can dangerously become a mind-set first before it can oozed its way into a team's culture, one of his major priorities as the season has gotten underway.

Even though the Cadets have dropped their first three matches, to Amity Regional, Trumbull and Greenwich, Aldrich is determined to turn the program around.

In his first year, St. Joe's managed to get a win against 17 losses.

It was slightly better than the year before when the Cadets went winless in 20 matches.

"It's a big challenge," said Aldrich, who, after holding down assistant coaching positions at Shelton and Oxford (on the boys side) and Masuk (as a girls assistant), returned to his alma mater. "It was always a dream of mine to come back here to coach.”

With that accomplished, now the steeper hill is to rebuild a program.

"We play in what has to be the best boys high school volleyball conference (FCIAC) in the state," he said. "Almost every one of the public schools gets high number of turnouts for the sport. Usually at least thirty or more. We had fifteen this year. On a positive note, all fifteen have stayed."

Aldrich lost three players off of last year's squad in Nick Crocco, Connor Higgins and Jack Munger. He will build this year's squad around three seniors and a sophomore with, what he considers unlimited potential.

The seniors are outside hitter and co-captain Bobby Sullivan along with a pair of Chinese exchange students, Hector Xin (the team's other captain) and Andre Huang.

"I'll lean substantially on Bobby this year," Aldrich said.

When Xin and Huang arrived at the school last year, they immediately got involved with the team. "It was important to them," Aldrich said. "Volleyball is an important part of their culture in China. It's that way throughout Asia."

Sophomore Ian Argento (at 6-foot-6) could become an immense force in the middle for the Cadets. "He could very well become the backbone of this team for the next three years," Aldrich said.

Aldrich will depend of juniors Hayden Falk and Reid Popick on his back row. Another junior, Tyler Higgins, is the teams' best digger. Then there's Dan Matyzczyk. Aldrich's loves his ability to set the ball and to set it well.

"My only problem with Dan is he's probably the teams' best all-around player," Aldrich said. "He's a good hitter and a good passer and well as a proficient server.  But I need him as our setter. He's constantly working on his game."

Aldrich has seen some flashes of good play so far. He knows that in order to move from a below-average team to one that can garner a winning record and move into state-tournament contention, the receiving, passing, setting and hitting game must all come together.

"We need to be consistent," he said. "In particular, our passing has been troublesome so far. If we get a good pass, there have been times when we haven't had a good set. Or, we've put the first two together and didn't come up with a winning kill."

A good season, according to Aldrich, will mean that the team will have to stay competitive with a fair amount of teams in the FCIAC. In that group are Greenwich, Fairfield Ludlowe and New Canaan.