Transfer Player And Collegiate Coach Assist In NHS Volleyball Team’s Run To Title
When one door closes, another opens.
For student-athlete Maddie Patrick and Coach Mike Brienza, after their respective school doors closed, Newtown High School’s opened. They joined the Nighthawk volleyball team and played roles in the Hawks going undefeated and winning the South-West Conference North Division championship to cap off a challenging fall with a celebration.
Patrick is a basketball standout at Waterbury-based Chase Collegiate School, whose career will continue at the collegiate level. Also a volleyball player, the senior would have missed out on playing her fall sport when Chase closed back in August as a result of the impact of the coronavirus if not for the opportunity to play for her hometown public school.
Brienza is a 14-year head women’s volleyball coach at Post University, which went to remote learning and canceled sports. His friendship with Tom Czaplinski, head coach of the NHS volleyball team, led to this opportunity to stay involved and share his expertise with up-and-coming spikers.
A few months ago, before the slightly abbreviated season began, Brienza and Patrick were not yet part of the NHS volleyball family. Now they are South-West Conference North Division champions, helping senior regulars in the lineup, Amanda Araujo, Kate Petersen, Maggie McInerney, and Sarah Nowacki, go out on top. Newtown capped off its perfect slate with a victory over New Milford in the championship match.
"It was great to have five seniors, all of whom saw regular playing time. They brought leadership which was significant because while we had five seniors we also had a very young team," said Czaplinski, who is also assisted by Chris Pearson and Lisa Burbank.
The fall timeline was an interesting one for Patrick. Things went from school and season canceled to transfer, a new set of classmates and teammates... to champion.
“It’s definitely been crazy, but it’s been one heck of a ride,” Patrick said. “The girls were so welcoming and I’m so proud of being on a team that’s so close.”
Czaplinski said Patrick is a “great blocker — very versatile.” She brought an element of size to the net, helping the Hawks block opposing team hits, and providing offense as well.
Brienza has previous high school coaching experience, including leading the team at Jonathan Law High in Milford, and enjoyed being a part of high school volleyball again, and with the Nighthawks for a campaign.
“It’s so much fun — it’s just a blast. The girls are great to work with,” Brienza said. “They’re like sponges at that age. They just want to learn.”
Czaplinski has coached for almost as many years as Brienza, both have been at it for more than 20 years, but said there was an advantage to having him on the bench.
“Just to have someone with more experience than me, who’s seen some of the same things as me, to be able to ask him for his input for what we can do better,” benefitted the team, Czaplinski said.
Sure, things looked pretty bleak back when the seasons at Chase and Post were canceled, but Patrick and Brienza made the most of their opportunities when the Hawks took them aboard.