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Raiders Volleyball. Building a winning team. Story by John Torsiello.

POSTED October 19, 2014
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney

Carly Ruzbasan led Torrington to a 3-0 shutout of rival Holy Cross on Tuesday night at Torrington High School. Ruzbasan recorded 21 service points.

There was some uncertainty among the coaches and players on the Torrington High School volleyball team as to what kind of a season awaited the Raiders in 2014.

After all, Torrington, which was coming off a splendid 19-5 campaign a year ago, had lost some key frontline players and a lot was being asked of those holdovers moving into key roles. Well, everything has worked out just fine for the Raiders of head coach Christine Gamari, thank you, with the club 13-3 after its first 16 games, in the middle of the Naugatuck Valley League race, and tied for sixth in the CIAC Class L rankings as of this writing.

THS lost a marathon road match to rival Woodland by a 3-2 score on Friday with game scores of 13-25, 26-24, 26-28, 25-13 and 15-11 in the deciding fifth game.

Gamari was one who did expect positive things from her team his year.

“I always have high expectations for the success of my teams,” said the former standout at THS, who is in her fourth year coaching the Raiders. “I have quite a bit of `Raider Pride’ and I feel that it is important for the players to see someone who wholeheartedly believes in their ability to achieve (other than their parents). I may not always be happy with our skill execution or effort, but I never doubt what we can achieve working together. I honestly did not know how good we would be. I knew I was returning some important people, but I also had quite a few newcomers who needed to fill some very important roles.”

Gamari said one of her goals was to get her experienced players and the inexperienced players to learn to play together and get used to one another. It took some time, but the Raiders are seeing the rewards of that effort.

“I think what makes this team good is that they are extremely coachable. They listen to the feedback from the coaching staff and make changes for the better. They respond and don't shy away from being challenged. My captains, Kassi Perusse, Carly Ruzbasan and Samantha Zordan, have been instrumental in demonstrating to the younger girls in the program how we do things.  Caitlyn Cornish and Carissa Carbone are also role models when it comes to practicing at a high level and giving maximum effort.”

Sophomore setter, Jayleen Colon, has stepped up big for THS, said Gamari, who was a three sport athlete at THS (volleyball, basketball, and track), went on to play Division I volleyball for the College of the Holy Cross, and was captain of the Holy Cross volleyball team her junior and senior seasons. 

“She has natural hands and is becoming a smart setter, moving the ball around through our various offensive options. Freshman defensive specialist, Candyce Jewett, is improving daily with respect to her passing and defensive capabilities, and has become a vital, trusted member of the defensive strategy. Miah Giarnese, a former middle hitter, has transitioned nicely into the outside hitter role for us. Her difficult serve has been instrumental for our offensive/defensive strategies as well.”

Ironically, Torrington began the season losing two of its first matches, dropping 3-2 decisions to Woodland and Naugatuck. But the team then caught fire and ripped off 12 wins in 13 contests, with the only loss to Granby out-of-league. The Raiders ended Seymour’s unbeaten season with a 3-2 victory over the Wildcats at THS Oct. 7, and then revenged the loss to Naugy, 3-0.

In fact, eight of Torrington’s last nine wins have been by 3-0 scores.

Ruzbasan believes the team has been a huge success this season because it is “a young team, fighting against the older teams.” She continued, “We have a lot of underclassmen this year and my insecurities said that that we wouldn't be a very strong team. I'm very pleased about this season because we've faced big teams such as Seymour, Woodland, Holy Cross, and we beat an undefeated team.”

Ruzbasan said that after beating Seymour, the team was thrilled.

“Even the freshmen on the side were screaming and yelling throughout the entire game. You could tell they were excited to be playing on varsity soon. We didn't come into the match expecting to win or expecting to lose. But we were expecting to play our hardest and go after every ball, be in the right positions, get our serves over and in and also to just smack the ball, but we also had be careful on some plays. Throughout the game we all stuck together as if we were a big family. It was great. I wish every game was like that.”

Ruzbasan, like her teammates, believes the Raiders can go deep in the NVL and state tournaments. “We have a strong team and can continue succeeding in each game only if we can participate to our fullest each time and acting like one big family like we did against Seymour.” 

Zordan credited the squad's coaching staff and her teammates.

“We worked extremely hard this season to focus more on our team play and that is what we have done. Beating Seymour was a big success for us. It made us feel confident and ready to take on some harder teams. It's is like coach says, `the team with the fewest mistakes will win the game.’ That is exactly what we did that night. We were on our game. I think that we will go pretty far this season, if we keep on playing as a team and talking to each other.”

As for Gamari’s take, she said she has no idea how good the Raiders can be, which she believes is exciting.

“They continue to surprise me with what they do at times in practice or in a match. They are continually improving and maturing as volleyball players.  The challenge will be whether we can sustain this for the duration of the season and not let fatigue or a loss of focus impede our efforts. As we approach the end of our regular season and the tournament season, we will repeatedly have tough matches that will test us physically, mentally, and emotionally. If we all trust one another and believe in one another, then whatever will be will be--and I'll be okay with the outcome.”

She added, “I firmly believe we just need to continue to improve and mature as volleyball players.  We need to continue to be coachable and detail-oriented when it comes to executing our defensive and offensive systems.  Most importantly, all of us need to continue to have one another's back and continue to improve our on-the-court communication and discipline.”

When asked for her personal coaching style, Gamari said, “I don't even know if I have an overall coaching style. As a player, I was extremely competitive and driven.  I wanted to be the best that I could be, and I made sure that I put 100 percent effort into every practice and every competition.”

Gamari values desire, effort, and attitude over talent. “My coaching staff and I can teach the necessary skills and intricacies of volleyball, but the players have to be receptive to our teaching and willing to exert maximum effort on a daily basis in order to have a strong team. You can't have some players giving it their all and then some not doing so and expect to have good team morale or a willingness to win. Players are not only accountable to the coaching staff, but to one another as well, perhaps even more so.”

She added, “The quote that I have on my student-athlete handbook and that I have adopted as my personal coaching philosophy is as follows:  `Build for your team a feeling of oneness, of dependence on one another, and of strength to be derived by unity,"’ by Vince Lombardi.

Lombardi’s teams, of course, won a lot of championships, something this year’s Torrington volleyball team would love to do.

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