NORTH SALEM, N.Y.— Little by little, North Salem’s volleyball program is inching toward its goal of winning a league title. It finished with an overall record near .500 and fell to Keio in the first round of Section 1 Class C playoffs, but ground out the school’s best campaign in recent years.

“We were in a tough league and playing against good competition,” North Salem coach John Veteri said. “Last year will hopefully make us better for this year.”

Forced to rely on an abundance of juniors, the Tigers have lost nine seniors from last season as they shift into Class B. Pillars who will be missed include four-year varsity starter Simone Schnarwiler, the six-foot tall Stephanie Blackwood, as well as setters Leah Feniger and Amanda Santos.

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Four seniors are back in action with experience under their belts in what could be a breakout season for North Salem.

Returning libero Brianna Perez is an important one of them, while she manages the Tigers’ back-row. Other seniors in Catrina Cantarella (front-row middle hitter) and Victoria Rienzi (setter) plan to fill in the gaps. The last senior, Julianna Cervoni, is going to play either middle- or outside-hitter.

Rounding out the lineup and reserves is a bulky junior class that is still competing for playing time. Front-row players in junior Makenzie Fogle and sophomore Joan Herlihy are expected to make an impact at the net.

“We haven’t had any scrimmages, so we’re testing the waters our first couple of games,” Veteri said. “It’s not set in stone who is going to be playing where; it will be mix-and-match. We have some things in the works.”   

A flexible junior in McCall Valentin should see minutes in both the front and back-rows this year. Valentin will have to pick up even more slack since another junior in front-row hitter Gabrielle Marino is out for the fall season with an ankle injury.

Marino, who was supposed to start for the Tigers, originally suffered the setback during lacrosse’s spring season but the injury nagged on.

As for strategy on the court, Veteri pulls for his team to become more defensively oriented and to maintain the ball longer for better shots.

“In the past we have been tentative on our defense,” Veteri said. “We need to focus more on controlling the ball, on our first and second touches. If you can’t play defense, then you can’t set yourself up to strike on offense.”

North Salem hosted Briarcliff in its first game of the season on Wednesday, Sept. 6, and will welcome Pleasantville to town on Friday at 6 p.m. It will square off twice with league rivals Haldane, Pawling and Putnam Valley this year.

“Our aim and focus is to win the league,” Veteri said. “That’s goal No. 1 and then it goes from there.”