North Tonawanda boys volleyball coach Luke Hodgson wants his team to view the season as a bucket of water — and the players as sponges. Soaking up and learning from every single thing they experience.
The more they take in, the more they have learned and the better they will be.
"I use the example of being a sponge," Hodgson said. "All the information and all the plays are like a big bucket of water and every year you just soak up as much as you can. By the time you are a senior, you've pretty much taken all that water out (of the bucket)."
The Lumberjacks are off to a 2-1 start in this confusing, Covid-19 shortened season. Leading the way for the Jacks are senior co-captains Joshua Trenchard and Jonathan Johnson.
Trenchard keeps the offensive humming as the team's starting setter, while Johnson is the heart of the back row as the starting libero. Both are well aware that the onus of leadership is on their shoulders this year.
That entails not only putting up the numbers, but also being vocal on the floor.
"We've definitely talked about that and they know they have to vocalize more," said Hodgson. "Whereas in years past, they could let their play speak for themselves and allow guys like Noah Fox and Josh Roy to kind of be the mouthpieces, because they've been around and they were experienced. This year, Jon and Josh we kinda sat them down and explained to them that they have to communicate more. More so than ever before."
Hodgson said that Josh and Jon have both taken to those roles and are working hard at articulating to their teammates what needs to be done in each situation.
Senior Joe Milioto (outside/middle) also returns. After that, well, it's all about who wants to step up and seize the chance to make an impact.
And that essentially is what this season is for the Lumberjacks; a blank page. An opportunity to make a difference. Opportunity creates excitement.
"Everybody is really excited to try and get into that starting mix and try to get into that first six," said Hodgson. "After our captains and Joe, there's a lot of possibilities. Guys like senior Luke Miller and Nik D'Andrea they've really stepped up and kind of asserted themselves into position."
Sophomore outside hitter Patrick McNeil is certainly making the most of that chance as he notched 16 kills and 14 digs in a 3-2 win over Lockport on Monday.
The Jacks were trailing 2-1, but came back with wins of 26-24 and 15-10. Josh Trenchard tallied 38 assists in the win over the Lions.
NT showed character as they rebounded from a 3-0 opening day loss to 2019 state champion Grand Island. This was also followed up by a 3-0 clean sweep of Kenmore East on Wednesday.
Sophomore Aaryn Damsel has also looked good early on. Senior James Johnson will see time as defensive specialist, as will senior Leonardo Spinetti.
Hodgson said the shorter season is somewhat frustrating because it doesn't allow for as much time to explain in detail why things are done a certain way.
In past seasons, between a full slate of games, practices and tournaments gave guys plenty of live-action reps and teachable moments that helped them hone in their craft. But this year, with no tourneys and just 11 league games, the inexperienced players will have to rely on even more on the guidance of the veteran leaders.
"The guys just (have) to go on faith and trust from the guys who have been there and have seen it and say 'yeah this is how we do things,'" said Hodgson. "But at the same time, it's exciting. It's just always something new."
Evan Clausen, Dan Scime, Joseph Gregori, Gavin Bertini, Hayden Litten and Izack Shamrock-Hansen complete the line-up. The Jacks come back 6 p.m. Friday with a Niagara Frontier League battle with Niagara Wheatfield.