Monday, January 17, 2022

Sports Person of the Week

Stone’s Solid as North Branford’s Setter


Senior Makenna Stone has been the starting varsity setter for the North Branford girls’ volleyball team for the past two seasons. Photo courtesy of Makenna Stone

Senior Makenna Stone has been the starting varsity setter for the North Branford girls’ volleyball team for the past two seasons. (Photo courtesy of Makenna Stone)

When Makenna Stone was born, her mother Debbie was the head coach of the North Branford girls’ volleyball team. Through the past four years, Makenna has created her own legacy with the program and went on to become the T-Birds’ starting varsity setter as a junior last year.

As a toddler, Makenna attended practices and matches with her mother until Debbie stopped coaching in 2009. In 6th grade, Makenna joined the volleyball team at North Branford Intermediate School, where she was coached by Dana Zambelletti. Makenna says that Zambelletti’s guidance helped her get ready for the high school game.

“Ms. Zambelletti was a very good coach. She pushed us to play hard, even at the middle school level. We became a very close-knit team,” says Makenna. “I wasn’t the best player. I couldn’t serve in middle school. But by the end of 8th grade, she helped me a lot and helped me become the server I am today. She taught us everything we needed to know as we got to freshman year.”

Makenna played outside hitter for North Branford’s JV team during her freshman season. As she watched the varsity team play, Makenna got an up-close look of what she needed to do to succeed on the big stage.

“It was definitely eye-opening watching our wonderful varsity girls play. It was hard to think that I would make it to that level,” Makenna says. “Playing on the JV team, you were responsible for yourself and your teammates. We had to communicate and learn what to do at our positions. It pushed us to be even better.”

Following Makenna’s freshman year, Jacob Sweet, who was North Branford’s JV coach at the time, suggested that she switch from outside hitter to setter. Head Coach Tori Ramada agreed. Makenna took part in summer training camps, made the move to setter heading into her sophomore season, and has held the position through her senior year.

“It can be pretty stressful, but over time, the team knows what you can and can’t get to. We usually work like a pretty well-oiled machine,” says Makenna. “That feeling when you can set someone up and they hit it down, it’s exciting. I’m part of that. I helped her smack that ball on the floor. It’s amazing.”

Makenna continued playing JV as a sophomore before becoming the Thunderbirds’ varsity setter in her junior campaign. When she stepped on the court as a starter, Makenna realized that the pressure was now on her to prove she belonged on the varsity floor.

“Up to that point, I had only watched it. They put me in my first game of my junior season,” Makenna says. “I had to make my sets. I had to make sure I was facing the right way. I had to make sure I was making smart decisions. It was a lot of pressure. It still is. But Coach Ramada was there for us. Our seniors were very supportive and helped us work as a team.”

Makenna’s freshman season marked Coach Ramada’s first year at the helm of the Thunderbirds. Since then, Ramada has seen Makenna make immense progress as a volleyball player. Ramada says the senior setter has become a focal point of North Branford’s attack, as well as a true leader for the team.

“Makenna has been our setter for the past two seasons and is a core part of our matches. She works well with the team on executing attacks in different positions on the court,” says Ramada. “Makenna has a great amount of knowledge for the game. She is a leader and always communicates with the players on ways to improve, mistakes made, as well as ways sets can be improved.”

In addition to volleyball, Makenna has also been a member of North Branford’s fencing program since her sophomore year. Makenna will serve as a senior captain for the T-Birds in the upcoming winter season.

Makenna has had to learn how to compete individually as a fencer. She’s been able to take what’s learned on the fencing strip and apply those lessons to the volleyball court.

“Going from a team-based sport to where you have to rely on your teammates to a sport where you focus on yourself in a match is completely different. It can be kind of scary,” Makenna says. “I went from having my friends directly by my side to learning what to do and executing on my own. I had to learn how to get out of my own head and push myself. I was able to bring that back to volleyball.”

Makenna says that it was a bit jarring to watch the varsity volleyball squad compete when she was a freshman. However, during her four years with the Thunderbirds, Makenna has grown alongside her teammates both on and off the court. As she finishes her time with North Branford volleyball, Makenna feels grateful to have followed in her mother’s footsteps and for all the opportunities she’s had to compete with the T-Birds.

“It means so much. I can’t say it was all me or all one person. My team, community, and parents pushed me so hard. It’s so nice to be a part of something I can be proud of,” says Makenna. “There’s so many things I could’ve done with my high school career. But I chose to be a part of this team, and it’s one of the most positive things I’ve chosen to do.”

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