With six 30-win seasons in seven years, Rocklin looks to keep up its winning ways in 2014
By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor
Under coach Dave Muscarella, the Rocklin Thunder girls volleyball team has rolled to an elite status in the Sac-Joaquin Section.
All Rocklin does is win it seems.
Rocklin has won two Division II section titles, including last year’s championship, as the program has made 30-win seasons feel like status quo. Muscarella and the Thunder have compiled a 258-58 (.816 winning percentage) record over a seven-year span.
With that success has come the recognition of the program consistently rolling out top talent, even as top players graduate. In recent years, the turnover has been more of a reloading process than rebuilding for the perennial playoff contenders.
The 2014 reloading process has begun, and the Thunder is again expected to compete for Sierra Foothill League and Sac-Joaquin Section championships. Despite four graduated players moving on and taking the majority of Rocklin’s 2013 offense with them, Muscarella and his players believe the next wave of talent will pick up where past players left off.
“We lost a lot of good offensive players, but we gained some good hitters from the JV team,” said senior libero Sierra Dierksen. “They might not be as experienced, but they have the potential to give us most, if not all, of what the graduating players contributed.”
Gone are Megan Richwine, Bethany Mandon, Jolie Meade and Kate Mitchell along with their combined 983 kills. But Muscarella is confident in an influx of new hitters that will be led by a pair of junior captains in outside hitter Maddie Haynes and setter Megan McBroome. Both players begin their third year as varsity starters.
Haynes and McBroome played major roles in the Thunder’s Division II section title run in 2013, but the pair will shoulder even more of the load in 2014, at least until the new talent gains valuable experience during a challenging tournament schedule and a tough slate of SFL matches.
Muscarella has been at the helm since 1999 and is an established and respected coach in the region. The 2013 section title was his second, and Rocklin has advanced to the section final in five of the last seven years. His knowledge and straight forward coaching style has propelled the Thunder to its current level, and has helped numerous players earn scholarships to continue playing in college.
“(Muscarella) lets people know what he is thinking,” McBroome said with a chuckle, “but he is very good about letting players know what he wants from them.”
McBroome and Haynes have heard Muscarella loud and clear, and have attracted plenty of recruiting attention thanks to their play at Rocklin and on club teams.
Haynes, who had a team-high 314 kills to go along with 58 blocks and 42 digs last season, earned a spot on the USA 18U National Team that competed in the Continental Championships in Costa Rica this past July. She is considered among the top hitters in the section and, despite being a junior, has already committed to Cal.
“Committing took all of the weight off of my shoulders,” Haynes said. “I can focus on school and being a kid without the pressure of recruiting.”
Haynes’ clear strength is as an offensive threat, but she knows that her game needs to be well-rounded to continue to improve. She has worked to improve her defense and back row play so that she can remain on the floor to provide her talents and leadership.
Both Haynes and McBroome were named team captains this season, and the consensus among teammates, including seniors like Dierksen, is that they have earned the labels despite being underclassmen.
“I look to them as seniors because they have lots of experience,” Dierksen said. “They are great players and they can relate to their peers because we have a lot of juniors on the team.”
McBroome quarterbacks the team’s 5-1 offense from her setter position, and will be key to the transition of talent this year. She recorded 964 assists (averaging 9.1 assists per set) and added 141 digs and 45 aces in 2013. Muscarella sees a high ceiling for his junior setter to continue to raise her game.
“She is a smart setter and very cool-headed on the floor,” the coach said. “With maturity, she has gained confidence.”
McBroome’s confidence in a new group of hitters to work with will be vital to keeping opponents from keying on Haynes.
“We definitely lost a lot of hitters, but we got some new talent,” McBroome said. “I feel that we can be just as good this year with new players stepping up.”
Among the new players McBroome will distribute the ball to are top contributors from last year’s junior varsity team and a freshman that has Muscarella excited about the next few years at Rocklin. Sophomore Abby Nash will provide hitting support opposite Haynes while middle hitters Julianne Miller and Morgan Farrell will contribute offensive diversity in an effort to keep opposing defenses guessing.
Muscarella has seen a fair share of freshmen players contribute through the years, but he is particularly excited by the play and potential of outside hitter Abby Marjama.
“She is a pretty special freshman,” Muscarella said. “She is as good as any freshman that we have had coming through.”
The best way Muscarella knows to get his young talent experience is to have them face top competition early and often.
The Thunder opened the season against Div. IV power Placer and will face section heavyweights St. Francis, Christian Brothers and El Camino in nonleague action. Additionally, Rocklin will travel to tournaments in Stockton and the Bay Area to face Northern California’s best in preparation for the realigned SFL.
With the addition of Oak Ridge, the already-difficult SFL got tougher. Home-and-home matches against defending league, section, and state champion Granite Bay, Oak Ridge, Del Oro, Nevada Union, Folsom, and Woodcreek will have the Thunder ready for a run at a repeat championship.
“It is probably the toughest league in the section, maybe even in all of Northern California,” Muscarella said. “It is a great league to be in because every night is a challenge.”
So, the challenge of reloading the roster to remain an elite program is one welcomed by the Rocklin coach and his players.
“I want to lead the team to sections and help the girls around me to become better players,” Haynes said. “I am into everyone being a part of the team and contributing.”
If Rocklin gets contributions from its entire roster, then the Thunder just might roll to another championship.
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