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St. Bernard’s, Sizer Work Together on Volleyball Court

October 3, 2018

Mackenzie Pupecki serves the ball for St. Bernard's during Tuesday's match against Weston in Fitchburg. Pupecki is one of three Sizer School freshmen who joined the St. Bernard's co-op program this season. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / JOHN LOVE Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

FITCHBURG -- Lean turnouts over the past couple of seasons left the St. Bernard’s girls’ volleyball team facing a situation best summed up by part of a famous H.G. Wells quote: Adapt or perish.

The Bernardians managed to put together a bare-bones roster last season, with little wiggle room; an injury or sudden disinterest would have landed the program on the brink of folding.

But out of last season’s short bench came something that has allowed the Bernardians to push forth with stronger numbers this fall. St. Bernard’s took on one player from the Sizer School, and from there the number of Sizer students playing daily in the St. B’s Activity Center has increased to three this year as a part of a growing co-op.

Adaptation at its best.

“It’s been great. We’ve been able to keep this program alive with the addition of these three girls,” St. Bernard’s Athletic Director Faith Merchant said Tuesday. “You never want to have a team and have just enough players. You always want a little bit of depth. It’s added some value, for sure.”

It may not seem like much, but three out of 14 players can make a difference on a team like the group at St. B’s. Just four players on the roster are seniors, leaving a young squad that could likely grow restless during a season like this, where the Bernardians sit at 1-7.

Rather than become frustrated, the influx of outside players has brought new life to the team. Amy Julie Garros Gusmao, Micaela Henckler and Mackenzie Pupecki -- all freshmen -- have not only been a spark for the team’s mentality, they’ve all contributed on the court, as well.

“I’ve got nothing but good things to say about the girls who came over from Sizer,” head coach John Harrison said prior to Tuesday’s practice. Harrison’s daughter, Olivia, is a freshman on the team and his wife, Tina, is an assistant coach.

“The team was looking like it might fold, but the girls rallied together to make sure the volleyball program would keep going,” Tina Harrison said.

Assistant coach Sarah O’Toole, whose daughter Maddison is a St. Bernard’s senior and a member of the team, said that adding players to ensure that the seniors would be able to play their final year was something special.

“We weren’t having enough girls come out from St. Bernard’s, and Sizer is comparable in size to us,” Sarah O’Toole said. “They approached us and asked if they could jump on. We were lucky; we got a great group of girls.

“This team has really meshed together nicely. There’s been no issue with that.”

The team has managed just one victory this season -- a three-set sweep of University Park on Sept. 14 -- and the coaches admit that the young group is a work in progress. But for everyone involved, just having the chance to work toward future success is something to be happy about.

“The three girls coming over from Sizer have been a great addition,” Merchant said. “They’ve blended in well and developed some great camaraderie. It’s great in that these girls have all developed new friendships outside of the school. It’s given the program something to build on.”

Follow Nick Mallard on Twitter @n_mallard.

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