CROSS RIVER, N.Y. – When you walk into the gym at John Jay during a volleyball game, the first thing you will probably notice is how hard Lily Preis hits the ball.

The pure velocity of the ball as it crashes down to the court is staggering. Preis, a junior, is an outside hitter and one of the top players in Section 1.

Preis missed a few weeks due to injury last season and she said it changed her perspective.

Sign Up for Katonah/Lewisboro Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

“I learned to read the game and see everything strategically,” Preis said. “Basically, putting the ball where no one is will work more than hammering it as hard as you can.”

And she’s not just a threat offensively.

“During club season and while playing beach, I’ve completely changed how I play defense,” the junior star said. “To say the least, I guess less and read the hitter more. I can see the whole court and try to think of what I would do if I were hitting. I’m usually right with where they’re hitting to.”

Taylor Hoffman, a senior, returns as the team’s starting setter. Fellow senior Annie Rutherford is John Jay’s libero.

“I think I have improved a lot as a player,” Hoffman said. “I used to be a scared little freshman setter on a varsity team. I have definitely grown a lot through my four years and realized the things I need to do to help the team be successful.”

Hoffman knows what a luxury it is to have a player like Preis on her side.

“Lily Preis never fails to amaze me,” Hoffman said. “No matter what set I put up to her, I know she’ll kill it. At practice, she’s giving it her all. We haven’t had a game yet, but I know that when we do, she’s going to bring her ‘A’ game.”

John Jay graduated some key hitters like Vivian Turriago and Daisy O’Neill in the front row, so the Indians have some holes to fill.

“We graduated almost all of our hitters last year, so we are trying to focus on our offense during preseason,” Preis said. “A main theme has been to hit every ball with a purpose and hitting to an open spot rather than just hitting into the court. We have five first-year players on our roster this season. All of them are coming into big roles and with that they are changing positions.”

Kira McMann, a junior, will be counted on to be a strong presence in the front row. Sophomore Lily Hodor, a sophomore newcomer, is a player that both Preis and Hoffman are excited to see develop.

“Both Kira and Lily put in a lot of work during the off season and it’s exciting to watch them play,” Preis said. “Kira is a hitter who plays any front row spot. She’ll see time at outside and right side so we can get her the ball a larger percent of the time. Kira is also an incredible blocker and a great defender. Lily Hodor was primarily a libero, but is becoming a threat in the front row. On defense she is able to touch any ball on the court. She’s a smart player that gives her all every single play.”

Madigan Flynn, a junior, is a newcomer who is “really working hard as a middle (hitter),” Hoffman said.

The Indians reached the Section 1 Class A semifinals last season, where they fell to Nyack on the road.

“Our goal has been the same the past couple of years: to get farther than we did the year before,” Preis said. “Ideally, we want to be playing for a section title, but that’s what everyone else wants too. I’m very excited for this season. The team is super close already and we all know each other inside and out. We all want to win the section.”

John Jay is scheduled to open the season when it travels to league rival Lakeland for a 4:30 p.m. game on Sept. 3.

“The goal is always section champs,” Hoffman said. “After the devastating semifinal loss last year, I think that’s what all the returners want. I know that’s always Rizz’s (coach Tom Rizzotti) goal and all the newcomers can agree with that as well.”