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Emily Stephens

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Lauren Kehoe leaps up for the spike in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon

By Clayton Collier

Coming off a year in which they boasted a 32-2-5 record and took home a Long Island Championship, the Kings Park girls’ volleyball program has kicked off their 2015 season with a number of new faces.

The most recent addition to the Kingsmen family came on Sept. 7 — Labor Day — when head coach Lizz Manly gave birth to her second son, Braden. Manly’s husband and the team’s assistant coach, Ed, has taken over the head coaching duties for this season in her absence.

Though she said the team misses Lizz, senior middle/right side Lauren Kehoe said she and her teammates have not had to adjust to Ed, who in addition to being an assistant, is also the junior varsity coach.

Lauren Kehoe leaps up for the spike in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon
Lauren Kehoe leaps up for the spike in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon

“We really haven’t had to adjust much at all,” she said. “We know what he expects from us, which is just giving it everything we have at all times on the court. He pushes us to be better athletes and people; always asking us how our days are and making sure we’re staying on top of our school work.”

Lizz Manly said it isn’t easy not to be coaching this season, but has full confidence in her husband’s abilities.

“It is sad for me not to be there,” she said. “Luckily, my husband took over for me, so I can still feel a little involved, and he is doing a great job so far. I think with confidence and determination, they will continue the Kings Park volleyball tradition.”

Ed Manly said his players and their families have helped make for an easy transition.

“It’s been a bit crazy, but the team and families have actually been very supportive — sending food home and stuff, asking to babysit my older guy,” he said. “It’s been crazy, but so much fun, too.”

In addition to their coach, Kings Park is also without several of their key cogs from last season, including Amanda Gannon, the program’s all-time kills leader and reigning Long Island Player of the Year.

“Any time you graduate a player like Amanda, there is an adjustment period,” Ed Manly said. “We also lost another All Long Island player in Kat Benson, who is now at Pace, and Emily Stephens, who was a four-year starter and a Second-Team All-Long Island player.”

Jaclyn Wilton bumps the ball in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon
Jaclyn Wilton bumps the ball in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon

Seven of the 16 on this year’s squad are first-year members, while another seven are seniors.

Leading this transitional time for the Kingsmen will be senior captains Kehoe, Jaclyn Wilton and Steph Cornwell. Manly said each of his captains will play a vital role in all aspects of the game.

“Steph will be the leader on the court,” he said of the setter. “As a senior setter and two-year starter, she knows the expectations and the way we want to run things offensively.”

He believes Wilton will be key in his team’s success this year.

“She steps into the role as one of our main hitters, alongside junior Lauren Kloos,” Manly said. “Kehoe in the middle and junior Tara Carlin on the right side will anchor our front line.”

Wilton, an outside hitter, said while there is still room for improvement, she is pleased by the progress that has been made thus far.

Amanda Gannon and Lizz Manly are both absent from this season’s squad. File photo from Bill Denniston
Amanda Gannon and Lizz Manly are both absent from this season’s squad. File photo from Bill Denniston

“This season is definitely an adjustment, because we have a lot of young and new faces on the team,” she said. “Luckily, we all get along very well and are starting to understand better how to play with each other. It’s still early in the season and we still need a lot of work, but I definitely see us going far.”

Other key contributors include senior libero Lauren Baxter, sophomore defensive specialist Meagan Murphy and sophomore middle Erika Benson.

Kings Park lost its opening match to Westhampton Beach, but have since responded with four straight wins against Comsewogue, Sayville, Islip and Rocky Point.

While there is plenty of turnover from last season, Manly said the expectations remain high for his squad.

“We are confident that we have a great group of girls that will continue to get better and do great things,” he said. “There is a great sense of team chemistry already and the play on the court will only continue to get better.”