FAIRFIELD — Jane Ransome said she has a simple albeit difficult to define role this fall for the Fairfield Ludlowe volleyball team.
“I want to be a beast,” Ransome, a 5-11 junior, said before practice last night.
And what is Ransome’s definition of a beast?
“This year I’m hoping to play all the way around, so definitely contributing more in the back row,” Ransome said. “That’s not something I normally get to do and I’m excited to show what I can do. I want to be a beast on the court.”
If Ransome and a deep lineup of players stepping into expanded or new roles can live up to their potential, the Falcons, the defending FCIAC champions, will have another successful season.
“When we can finally get us all together during the same practice, just fine-tuning the lineup of who can contribute where, there is just a lot of talent everywhere,” Ludlowe coach Meghan Skelton said. “It is just figuring out the best combinations.”
Teams in all fall sports are still practicing in cohorts. That means volleyball teams cannot play six on six or work yet on blocking drills. The sport, along with football, was considered high risk by the state Department of Public Health, which recommended last month postponing it from the fall to spring season. But the DPH determined the sport would become a moderate risk and allowed to stay in-season if players wore masks.
“It was stressful,” said Allie Clark, a captain and the most experienced returning player, about the prospect of a delayed season. “We were able to do workouts and play together over the summer so we were prepared and praying. It’s been pretty weird playing with a mask.”
The Falcons, who lost to Westhill in the Class LL semifinals, will not get a chance to defend their league title. All sports will play an abbreviated and regionalized schedule; the one for volleyball has not yet been released. The Falcons will play 10 regular season games, likely against town rival Fairfield Warde and neighboring schools Trumbull and St. Joseph, as is the case for Ludlowe’s other teams.
“I think we’re looking good, especially looking at all the extra precautions we had to take,” said Ransome, who forgot the schedule changes. “We’re all just training hard together to hopefully win FCIACs again and win states too.”
Ransome will have to play an important role if Ludlowe, which finished 23-4 last year, is to become champion of its pod. She said she is up to the task.
“I think I’m way more of a vocal leader on the court now that our seniors are gone, and I’m definitely stronger too,” Ransome said. “A lot of the girls have been working out on their own, especially during the quarantine, so we are definitely a lot stronger. Just because we lost all these tall seniors, I think our team chemistry is really going to compensate for that.”
Ludlowe graduated four of its top hitters: Jackie Soderlund, Amy Lumaj, Jo Blanco and Maddie Corbett. It was an imposing lineup; the shortest player was 5-10. Ludlowe also lost its quarterback, Margaret Nolan, a top hitter and versatile standout who was MVP of the FCIAC final.
Defensive and serving specialists like Emma Davies and Katrina Henrich, and setters Ava Sanborn and Kaitlyn Yoon have also moved on.
That is a lot of skill and depth to replace. Clark was outstanding at libero and handling serve-receive and will again play a big role. Clark is also eager: she missed getting to play softball, her top sport, in the spring.
“I’m excited to be a leader on the team this year,” Clark said. “Right now we know what it takes to win. Everybody on our team has a lot of talent. They all have experience with JV so we have a lot of hope and a lot of potential.”
Gabby Price, who was given a larger role late last season, is back at setter. She is the Falcons’ other captain.
“I think I’m just excited,” Price said when asked if she felt pressure. “It was so fun last year being brought up and I’m excited to get more playing time this year.”
Skelton has players like Tatum Holderied, Caitlin Finnegan and Natalie Reilly she expects to flourish with more playing time, plus a strong sophomore class.
“We have a lot of options, which makes a coach happy,” Skelton said. “We are not just relying on one player to show up.”
Then there is Skelton’s beast.
“Jane we’ve been very excited about since she was a freshman and I think she has found the consistency and the confidence in the offseason, which is a dangerous combination for her,” Skelton said. “She has a very powerful hit, she has really come into her own and she’s become more versatile so she can play all the way around on the court. We’re excited to see what she can do out there. She was shy last year but she came in guns blazing for the first day of tryouts, which was really nice to see.”