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Article Published December 14, 2020

North Haven Puts Forth Historic Performance on the Court

By Chris Piccirillo/

The North Haven girls’ volleyball team put forth a historic performance on the court in 2020. In a season that seemed like it might never begin and was in danger of ending at any second once it did, Head Coach Brianna Kleckner’s club accomplished something that no North Haven volleyball squad had previously done.

North Haven advanced to the championship match of the Southern Connecticut Conference Division B Tournament this fall, becoming the first team in program history to reach an SCC final. After posting a regular-season record of 4-5, North Haven notched wins over Sacred Heart and Lyman Hall in the first two rounds of the tournament to make it to the final, where the team lost to Cheshire to finish at 6-6 overall.

Coach Kleckner knows that it was a big deal for North Haven to earn the right to play for an SCC title. Kleckner feels that North Haven’s playoff run will have a positive impact on the program for years to come.

“It’s a major shift in the program. We want players to have confidence in their ability to defeat these teams, and that is what we were able to do. They believed in each other and believed in themselves,” said Kleckner, who finished her fifth year as North Haven’s head coach. “What we achieved this season proves that we have a great team and that we can beat anybody. This will be a big confidence boost for us when we come back into the gym next year.”

Like every volleyball team in the state, North Haven had little time to prepare for its opener after the start of the season was pushed back by a few weeks. After starting out 1-3, North Haven began to find its stride by earning 3-0 wins versus Sacred Heart Academy and Branford, followed by a 3-1 victory against a Sheehan team that had lost to in its first match of the year.

Just when it looked like North Haven was heating up, all sports at the high school were put on hold following a positive COVID-19 case at the high school. North Haven saw a contest against Lyman Hall get canceled and, when the team did return to the floor for its first match in 15 days, it took a defeat to East Haven in its regular-season finale.

However, the SCC Division B Tournament gave North Haven a new lease on life, and Coach Kleckner’s squad was determined to make some noise in the tourney. As the No. 3 seed, North Haven started off by earning a 3-1 victory against No. 6 Sacred Heart Academy in a first-round matchup.

Then in the semifinals, North Haven squared off a 2nd-seeded Lyman Hall team that it had dropped a 3-0 decision to during the regular season. With the season on the line, North Haven flipped the script and swept Lyman Hall by a 3-0 score to solidify its spot in the title bout.

Although North Haven took a 3-0 loss against top-seeded Cheshire in the final, Coach Kleckner was proud of her team for making history by playing on the SCC’s biggest stage. Kleckner said that North Haven made drastic improvements with its passing and service receive during the course of the season. She added that North Haven’s excellent chemistry also went a long way toward the team’s successful campaign.

“One of the really cool things about this team is that they have all known each other a long time. Many of them grew up playing softball together and are friends outside of volleyball, and you can see that they care about one another,” Coach Kleckner said. “The camaraderie was really solid. They were always there for moral support and had a lot of confidence in each other. They were able to maintain a sense of calm in difficult matches, and that speaks volumes for our success this year.”

Kleckner gave a lot of credit to senior captain Alex Ferriouolo for fostering North Haven’s tight-knit chemistry. Ferriouolo, who served as a captain in her senior year, started at the libero position for North Haven and finished her senior season with 165 digs to go with 18 kills and 15 aces. For her efforts, Ferriouolo secured a place on the All-SCC Division B Team, marking her second-straight All-Conference honor, and also made the All-State Class L Second Team for the first time in her career.

“Alex is everything that I could have ever asked for in a leader. I am incredibly proud of her not just as a captain, but as a player with all the growth that she showed in her four years with the program. She has worked so hard and deserved the recognition she received,” said Kleckner. “Alex is fearless when she puts that uniform on. She will do whatever she can to keep the ball off the floor, and that mentality is contagious. She was everywhere that we needed her to be. Alex is a great athlete, tremendously coachable, and puts her best foot forward every time she’s in the gym.”

It meant a lot to Ferriouolo that she garnered her second-straight All-SCC accolade and earned her first All-State nod in her final year at North Haven. However, the most special aspect of the season for the senior captain was that she got to lead the team to a historic season alongside a group of athletes whom she feels proud to her call her friends.

“It was a season like no other with all the obstacles, but this was the strongest team I’ve ever been a part of it in my four years. It was so exciting, and I am so honored and proud that I got to be a captain and lead all of my best friends,” Ferriouolo said. “I’ve never been on a team that had the amount of love, support, and trust that we have for one another. When we play together, we are unstoppable, because our chemistry is so strong. Even the bond between JV and varsity was great. JV was so supportive of varsity throughout our whole run, and it was amazing to see that type of supportive environment.”

One of the obstacles that North Haven had to deal with this year was wearing masks during its matches. While it was a difficult adjustment at first, Ferriouolo said that North Haven’s players took that challenge in stride and handled it nicely.

“I remember that first day everyone was huffing and puffing, and it took me so long to find a mask that was comfortable. The good thing was that they gave us 30-second mask breaks during our matches, so if we needed a little cooldown, we could take a mask break and take a few deep breaths,” said Ferriouolo. “It was another obstacle that we had to face, but we all overcame it, and it wasn’t a problem by the middle of the season. We all know that’s how life is now. We adapted very well and did a good job.”

Ferriouolo was one of just two seniors on North Haven’s roster this season. The other senior on the team was Sophia DelVecchio, who started as a defensive specialist. DelVecchio recorded 31 digs and served up 12 aces on the campaign for Coach Kleckner’s squad

“Like Alex, Sophia is a role model player who is incredibly coachable and loves volleyball. I could see that every time we were at practice,” Kleckner said. “To see where Sophia was as a freshman to where she finished her career, the amount of growth she had was mind-blowing, and that speaks to how hard of a worker she is.”

Moving to the junior class, North Haven saw two members of that corps join Ferriouolo as an All-SCC Division B honoree this year. Junior setter Hannah Auddino made the team after posting 223 assists to go with 49 digs, 10 kills, and 31 aces. Fellow junior Caroline Toni, an outside hitter, had 87 digs, 58 kills, and 18 aces on her way to garnering All-Conference honors. Auddino and Toni were each in their first season as a members of North Haven’s varsity team.

“Hannah had a tremendous breakout year. She didn’t have a lot of time to process being thrown into the setter position, but she performed at a high level and did a great job,” Kleckner said of Auddino. “We can’t go anywhere if Hannah doesn’t do a million things right at the same time. She did a phenomenal job of working through the pressure and performing in a way that allowed us to be successful.”

Kleckner said that Toni had a breakout campaign in her own right while establishing herself as one of the top outside hitters in the conference.

“Caroline is one of our hungriest competitors who always wants to win,” said Kleckner. “The growth that she had with her skills and mental side of the game was awesome. She worked so hard to improve and did phenomenally well this year.”

Middle blocker Eveani Okwuosa was another key member of North Haven’s junior class, finishing the season with a total of 69 kills. Sophomore middle blocker Emma Liedke had 55 kills for North Haven, while sophomore outside hitter Maria Lockery posted 73 digs to go with 38 kills on the season.

“Eveani is a tremendous athlete and a forced to be reckoned with. When she connects, the whole gym stops. It’s exciting watching Hannah feed the ball to Eveani,” Kleckner said of Okwuosa. “Emma had an amazing season. She exploded in her first year as a varsity starter and was essential to our success. Maria was on varsity last year and didn’t get a lot of playing time, but the amount of growth that we saw in that kid this year was insane. I am beyond excited to watch her move forward in her career the next two years.”

North Haven’s varsity roster also included junior right side hitter Megan Cross, junior defensive specialist Lexy Signore, sophomore right-side hitter Kayla Balisciano, sophomore right-side hitter Maren Hill, and sophomore middle blocker Sophie Vauiso.

Coach Kleckner was assisted by JV coach Bianca Steele and volunteer coach Kristen Bataille.

Looking ahead to next year, Kleckner feels optimistic about North Haven’s prospects since the team will be returning the bulk of its roster from a club that went on a memorable playoff run. Looking back at the 2020 campaign, Kleckner said that all of the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic brought her athletes even closer together, and the result was a season that saw North Haven prove to the rest of the SCC that the team is now a contender.

“I think this season was just a screenshot of what we are capable of, and I am crawling in my skin with excitement to get back on the floor and pick up where we left off,” said Kleckner. “This was by far our best and most successful season yet. It was everything that I dreamed it could have been, and I couldn’t be more proud. I just really appreciate the hard work that our players put in this season. Being able to celebrate so many times with a group that overcame so much was the best part.”

Ferriouolo feels the same way as Coach Kleckner. While she’s sad that she’s played her last match at North Haven, Ferriouolo said that she will always have fond memories of her farewell campaign, especially since there was no guarantee that it would even happen.

“Being together was all that mattered to this team. The fact that we even had a chance to play together was amazing. All I wanted was to see everyone, give them high-fives, and be excited for them,” Ferriouolo said. “Every kid and every coach on the team made me feel so supported, and I will have a lifelong bond with all of them. I love every single one of the girls and coaches on the team with my whole heart. It’s hard to leave North Haven volleyball, but this season was a great experience to end on for sure.”