Kids,fans having a ball with high school volleyball

Telegraph Sports Reporter Tom KIng.

Volleyball anyone?

Don’t look now, but it may be the most popular girls high school sport in the fall.

It’s certainly the most successful.

After the Nashua High School South girls soccer team lost in the Division I quarterfinals on Monday, that left just one local girls soccer team left in tournament play – Souhegan in Division II. There are no more boys soccer teams.

Girls volleyball? There were five left going into the week, all of them in semifinal rounds in three divisions. Three of the four teams in the Division I semifinals were locals – Hollis Brookline, Bishop Guertin and Nashua South. Milford competed in the Division II semis Wednesday night and Campbell in Division III, although both lost. Hollis Brookline is unbeaten and working on trying to get a threepeat in Saturday’s finals vs. Bishop Guertin working on two straight titles. The Cavaliers seem to own Division I these days.

“According to USA Volleyball, it’s the number one girls sport in the country,” Cavaliers coach Becky Balfour said. “They’ve just pushed past basketball and soccer. It’s very popular, and it’s definitely growing in this region. I think Junior Olympics, winter volleyball has a lot to do with that. …”

Balfour’s players play during the winter and summer and go to camps. She’s got 42 out of a school of 800 that came out this fall for three teams. “We just have to place people,” she said. “But those kids that come are incredibly dedicated.”

And why shouldn’t they be? The student athletes go crazy almost on every point, like the fans, and they feed off of that.

“It’s so much fun to play here, I love it,” Guertin’s Julia Pascucci said. “Our team has worked so hard this season. Just to see us come here, and just let it all out, and win like that, it’s amazing. I love the fans cheering on every point.”

It’s not just the players that love it. Now the crowd for Tuesday’s Division I semifinal match between Bishop Guertin and Nashua South might have been more raucos had it been held at either the Coligadome or the Belanger Gym instead of the neutral site of Pinkerton Academy’s Hackler Gymnasium. But it still was loud. Yet the cheering at any of these matches is incredible, emotions on every point.

“Volleyball’s an amazing sport,” Guertin coach Abby Savard said. “It’s not out there as being the best sport in the world type top sport, but its popularity is definitely growing. More clubs are popping up.

“It’s just so much fun. The energy is there. It’s exiting. There’s so much that makes this sport amazing. I hope that people do jump on the bandwagon, because it is phenomenal.”

The Cavaliers usually travel well, but they are super loud in their gym, probably one of the reasons they’ve been so successful.

“I love our fans in particular,” Balfour said. “And there’s certainly a lot of South kids here. It’s fun and exciting.”

Nashua South coach Wayne Siejkowski says the men’s and women’s national teams being on television now and then, and being successful, has given the sport a big boost. “That draws kids, that draws attention,” he said.

The area seems to be the volleyball capital of New Hampshire on other levels as well. Don’t forget, Craig Kolek at Rivier University has built up an incredible men’s and women’s program, complete with Division III NCAA tourney appearances and Great Northeast Athletic Conference title match appearances galore. The Raider women are playing in the GNAC semis on Thursday for the 16th time in Kolek’s 19 years on the job.

Kolek gets some locals, but not an overwhelming number. A lot of the top volleyballers go away to school, and there are plenty of collegiate opportunities for them. Just this week Hudson’s Marisa Coronis, a senior at Southern New Hampshire Univerity, was named Northeast-10 Co-Player of the Week.

“I think the game has picked up,” Siejkowski said. “It’s picked up in tempo, it’s picked up in power. The girls have become much more athletic, much more dynamic. It’s become something to go see.”

Volleyball fever. Catch it.

Tom King can be reached at 594-1251, tking@nashuatelegraph.com., or @Telegraph_TomK.