Saturday, January 16, 2021

Sports Person of the Week

Toni Goes All-SCC in First Varsity Season

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Junior Caroline Toni garnered All-SCC Division B accolades for the North Haven girls’ volleyball team in her first season as a varsity player this fall. Photo courtesy of Caroline Toni

Junior Caroline Toni garnered All-SCC Division B accolades for the North Haven girls’ volleyball team in her first season as a varsity player this fall. (Photo courtesy of Caroline Toni )

Caroline Toni was strictly a softball player when she was in 8th grade. However, after meeting with North Haven girls’ volleyball Head Coach Brianna Kleckner, Caroline decided to try her hand in a new sport and quickly realized that it was something she liked and in which she could potentially succeed.

Caroline saw plenty of success during her junior season on the court this fall. In just her third year as a volleyball player and her first on the North Haven’s varsity squad, Caroline totaled 87 digs to go with 58 kills and 18 aces at the outside hitter position. As a result, Caroline was named to the All-SCC Division B Team alongside fellow junior Hannah Auddino and senior captain Alex Ferriouolo.

“I was so shocked. I was sitting next to Hannah on the bus, and coach called her name first. We were so excited. And then she called my name, and we were freaking out on the bus,” says Caroline of making All-SCC. “It was insane. It made me so excited when I heard my name.”

Coach Kleckner says she “had a feeling” that Caroline would be a good fit for her team. Over the past three years, Kleckner has seen Caroline progress into an integral member of the squad.

“Caroline has really stepped up, especially this year. We saw a tremendous amount of growth this season,” Kleckner says. “One of the most frustrating parts of volleyball is the mental part...She has grown so much in that aspect. She came in and put in 100-percent effort every day. It was obvious. Her being named All-Conference this year just showed that.”

Caroline played for the JV team during her first two years with North Haven volleyball. While those seasons were challenging, Caroline was able to learn about the fundamentals of the sport, while getting a sense of what it takes to succeed at the high school level. Caroline got a lot of help from North Haven’s older athletes, especially 2018 graduate Peyton Davis, when it came to making connections and getting acclimated to the program.

“I was super, super nervous, but I knew most of the upperclassmen because of softball. Some of them I had been playing with since I was younger,” Caroline says. “I got into it pretty quick. It was really comfortable. Everybody made me feel welcome. I was just nervous, because I had never played before.”

Caroline made the leap to the varsity ranks as a junior this year. Initially, that was another nerve-wracking adjustment for Caroline, but there was also plenty of excitement that came with being a varsity player. In the end, Caroline was able to find her groove and wound up playing every single point for North Haven’s varsity team this season.

As she made the varsity jump, Caroline found that her background in softball proved a huge help as a volleyball player. While there plenty of differences between the two sports, Caroline still saw some similarities between being a middle infielder on the diamond and an outside hitter on the court.

“Swinging at the ball and throwing is kind of like the same thing,” says Caroline. “You need all that momentum from your arm swing if you want to fire the ball to first or rip it down the line on the court. There’s little things that go into it.”

Caroline helped North Haven put together a solid season that saw the team go 6-6 and then win two games in the SCC Division B Tournament on its way to making the final. North Haven took a loss to Cheshire in that contest, but Caroline believes that the team will be ready to once again contend for a championship next season.

With a solid junior year in the books, Caroline will be looking to continue improving her skills as a senior. Caroline feels that her best quality on the court is her enthusiasm for the game, no matter the situation.

“I have my ups and downs, but I have everybody else with me pick me up,” Caroline says. “It made me emotional at times, knowing the season could end. There was a time when all the juniors were out for two weeks. When I got back, I just had an excitement. It’s like, ‘Yes, I get to play.’ It just made me so excited.”

Three years ago, Caroline hadn’t played volleyball competitively and didn’t see herself doing so any time soon. A few years later, Caroline already feels like she’s gotten everything that she ever could have wanted from the sport. As she looks toward her senior season, Caroline wants to encourage other young athletes to take a shot with volleyball, because she knows that it can have a big impact on anyone’s life.

“For the younger girls that are freshmen, I want them to look up and say, ‘I want to play volleyball.’ I want the underclassmen to see the growth and potential people have,” says Caroline. “Hopefully, they can enjoy the sport as much as I did. If coach did not call me into her office, I don’t think I’d be playing right now.”


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