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Coast Guard volleyball team gives seniors a perfect ending

New London — Every time Veronica Hine entered the volleyball match on Saturday, she had a bounce in her step and smile on her face.

Hine high-fived every teammate on the floor, jumping to reach the taller ones.

The Coast Guard Academy senior clearly enjoys playing with her fellow Bears.

In fact, they all looked like they were having a good time in their match against rival Merchant Marine Academy at Merriman Gymnasium.

And not just because they were playing well while on the way to a 3-0 sweep (25-18, 25-19, 25-12).

"Today was amazing," said a still beaming Hine after the match. "It was such a blast playing with these girls and playing a real game against our rivals and having all the fans come out and support us through Senior Night was really special."

Hine and fellow seniors Heather Miller and Bridget Boyle were honored in a pre-game ceremony.

Then they competed in their only match of the season and final one of their Coast Guard careers and helped the Bears earn a point in the 2020-21 Superintendents' Trophy competition.

First-year coach Mark Thomas gave the Bears high marks for their spirited performance.

"With so much unknown going on right now, it was really exciting for the team just to get in the gym and play against some other competition," Thomas said. "To be executing at the level that we did is incredibly exciting. You could see it in their faces, too. They had a lot of fun."

The Bears had the added bonus of playing before fans.

A limited number of cadets and staff — about 75 — were allowed to attend. And they made their presence felt by enthusiastically cheering on their team.

"The team was so fired up to be able to have this opportunity," Thomas said. "It made a big difference for us."

Coast Guard established an early lead in all three games and held off every charge from their opponents. The Bears won for the fifth straight time in the series.

"We came together from the start and kicked it off just right," Hine said. "We've been practicing so we were ready. ... We brought an excitement and energy to each point, even if we missed it. We were in it to win it. You could just tell that we were having a blast out there. Everybody was doing their part, so it was nice."

The Bears received strong contributions from several players, including junior Amanda Dake (a match-high 13 kills), sophomores Sophia Galdamez (career-high eight kills) and Noelle Tursky (match-high 27 assists), and Hine, who added eight digs. Sophomore Lauren Hatfield chipped in four aces.

There was a noticeable improvement in the team's play from its scrimmage against Division I Army two weeks ago, according to Thomas.

"We looked like a completely different team today," Thomas said. "Being able to look at game film, realize the things that we need to make changes on and watching them really work hard the past two weeks at trying to accomplish them, the results were there today."

Thomas, who spent the previous three seasons as an assistant at George Mason, is pleased with what his team has accomplished this fall despite playing only one match and one scrimmage.

The academy is familiar territory to Thomas, who served as an assistant in 2013. Without regular competition this fall, Thomas has focused on laying a firm foundation for the program.

"I consider it a blessing in disguise, I really do," Thomas said, "because in all honesty I've had the opportunity to take the extra time to work on not just the Xs and Os in the gym but the culture building of our program. Being able to work with them weekly and checking in with them in meetings more often has actually been more beneficial for us on the floor.

"Our seniors and our captains' leadership has been fantastic. They've really set a tone. We're working really hard even with very few matches, which more often than not you can get lackadaisical at times. That's not happening in our gym."

Prior to the match, a moment of silence was held for CGA graduate Morgan Garrett, who recently died in a flight school training accident. She was a middle distance runner on the track team during her undergraduate days.

g.keefe@theday.com

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