By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Staff Writer
Torie Rich didn’t have any volleyball experience before taking over the Mainland girls’ program at the start of the 2021 season, but she knows how to coach. And that was a big factor in her getting hired for her first head coaching position. She’s been around Mainland for a long time as an assistant in field hockey and softball, and her ability to relate to her players and get the most out of them showed, as the Mustangs put together one of the best seasons of any Cape-Atlantic League team.
In fact, nj.com had Mainland ranked as the No. 1 team in the CAL in its postseason evaluations.
It looks as though the future of this program is bright, and Rich said she intends to dive into this coaching position, learn all she can about the sport, and said she plans on being with this program for the foreseeable future.
“I’ve probably learned the most of anyone out here,” Rich said following a state playoff victory over Lacey Township in mid-April, the first home playoff victory in program history. “I’m just super proud of this group and excited for what they can bring to this program.”
In 2019 the Mustangs went 12-10, 4-4 in the CAL American conference, but this year — in a season shortened by the coronavirus pandemic — Mainland posted a 10-4 record, including 8-1 in the newly formed CAL East division. The Mustangs scored some big wins over the likes of Pleasantville, Middle Township and Lower Cape May, and even took down perennial CAL power Absegami, 2-1, in the final match of the season.
“The coaches are great, I love them. We have so much fun at practice and in our games. We have a great team,” said freshman outside hitter Sydney Booth, one of several rising stars on the Mustangs’ roster.
Another breakout star this year was junior Olivia Leap, who developed into one of the best net players in the league throughout the course of this season, and Mainland will have its setter back next year in junior Cadence Fitzgerald. They’ll also return top outside hitter Bella Canesi as well as juniors such as Laziah Wilson, Caroline Moyer, Julia Thornton and Amaya Perez.
“All our coaches have come in and done well. They really listen to the players and everyone works well together. I know they didn’t necessarily play volleyball but they are good coaches all around. They obviously researched the sport, they watch film, they study and they come in and communicate very well with the players, which is nice. We do a lot of drills and watch a lot of film, which is something we never really did before,” said Fitzgerald. “I love (Rich’s) attitude. She’s so encouraging. She always says, ‘I need you guys to believe in yourselves as much as I believe in you.’ She knows what we’re capable of, so it’s been nice (to have success) to show all our hard work and what she’s taught us at practice.”
“Cadence is a natural born leader. She brings positivity that is infectious, 100 percent. Having her out there and having her spirit and attitude helps this team tremendously,” Rich said. “We’ve moved some people around since the beginning of the season and kind of found what works best for us.”
Fitzgerald said she was thrilled to be able to experience the girls volleyball playoffs, considering there was no postseason for basketball this year.
“We’ve had a lot of firsts this season, like we beat Pleasantville for the first time in Mainland history, and having a home playoff game was so exciting. But I know we’ve been capable of this all season, and it was nice to see everyone work so well together. I knew we had this ability, and I think (during the playoffs) we really showed what we can do,” she said after the win over Lacey. “With basketball season, I was very disappointed that we didn’t have any playoffs, so to have them for volleyball, and to have a home playoff game, I’m just so happy with this opportunity.”
There certainly is some excitement surrounding this program after the type of season the Mustangs put up in 2021, and that will only serve to bolster the confidence of some of the younger varsity players as well as the junior varsity players who will try to fill the roles of departing seniors Francesca Pilli, Emma King and Nicole Faragher.
“At first, I was very nervous being a freshman, but it’s gotten easier as we’ve played more games,” Booth said after that playoff win over Lacey. “It really helps (having experienced teammates) because they can teach me so much more than I already know and can really help me improve. It’s so fun to have playoffs and to play for something important. This season has been great and the girls have been great. It’s been so fun. I feel like I have learned so much being with these girls and I’m a lot more confident. I haven’t played volleyball in a while, but I started getting into the groove of things.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays