Girls volleyball preview

An interview with Head Coach Howard Hu


Varisty roster: Katie Kent ’23 (Captain) Gigi Novakovic ’23 (Captain) Elena Santos ’25 Kylynn White ’25 Erin Wheeler ’24 Anfisa Staukunas ’24 Simona Lagiglio ’25 Natalie Kelsey ’23 (Captain) Mary Kent ’24 Lola Morton ’24 Abby Keller ’25 Rory Maxwell ’23 (Captain) Zoe Levitt ’24

The Jones girls volleyball team began their fall season on Tuesday, Aug. 23. So far their record is 5-4. The following is a preview of the season with Head Coach Howard Hu. Questions and answers have been lightly edited due to space constraints. 

Who are some notable graduating players from last year and how are you planning on replacing them?

I think our biggest loss was Lily Bechina. She was very gifted. She was tall, and a great leader as well. She actually coached for us during the summer volleyball camps, so she still has a big imprint on the volleyball program this year because of what she did over the summer.

In terms of who’s ready to step in, it would be sophomore Kylynn White. She is a second year varsity player and she’s going to be a starter. So we’re really excited for her to run the show and kind of show what she’s got. She’s an extremely well-rounded player and by far our best setter. She could even be our best hitter and one of our best defensive players. So as a sophomore, that’s very promising.

Are there any other players you are looking forward to seeing impact the team?

I feel like almost every player on the varsity team is very skilled and talented. We have senior libero Katie Kent, who is our starting libero and she’s had this role for multiple years throughout her high school career, so we’re really excited to have her as captain and a leader. We have two middle hitters that are probably up there as our best ever in that position. We also have Erin Wheeler, who’s a junior, and Gigi Novakovic, who’s a senior, and they are our biggest blocks and I’m trying to make them our deadliest hitters.

Are there any games you or the team is looking forward to this season?

We are scheduled against the reigning state champions, Montini Catholic. They are going to be on our radar because I want our girls to not be scared, I want our girls to be excited for the opportunity. How many schools get to say they play the reigning state champs? And that’s just something I’m looking forward to, just to see how we match up but also to see how our girls respond to the big stage.

Last year, the girls volleyball team finished with a 16-14 record and finished ranked #3 in CPS. How are you planning to build off of that and improve this year?

We have gone to the city championship five out of the last six years not including the COVID year, because there were no playoffs. But that means since I’ve been [at Jones], both JV and varsity teams have been in the city championship every single year except one. So I’m looking to, at the very least, the city championship. We have four city championships, which I believe are the first ever in our school for girls volleyball: three JV city championships and one varsity championship. Last year we actually upset Lane Tech, who was the second seed and we went to the city championship at both levels. So my expectation is that we go to the city championship again, if not win it.

Will there be a change in style of play or coaching from last year to this year?

I definitely want to utilize our middles. They’re not our strength at Jones because height is not something that comes through the doors at Jones like it does at Whitney Young. So to have two great middles in Erin and Gigi, I’m hoping to utilize them a lot in our offense. Daily, or every other day, we’re working on our vertical jump so, for the whole front row, I’m working on aggressive hitters and aggressive jumpers. Jones is known for our defense because we have shorter players and unlimited defensive specialists. But we are not known for our offense, and that’s something I want to focus on this year.

Do you have any expectations for the team? A floor? A ceiling? What matters to you for them?

I want to give a shout out to Coach Pablo Lopez. I had the opportunity to coach with him this past spring for the boys volleyball season and one thing he kind of taught me was to believe in the players, have the players believe in themselves and each other. And so there really is no ceiling for us. I think sometimes when we look at a school and we say, ‘Oh, we’re not going to beat them,’ we are, in a sense, putting a limit on what we can become. And so this year, my whole focus is to believe that we can accomplish whatever we want to accomplish and see where it goes at the end of the day. If we fall short, that’s not the end of the world to me. But what I want to do is believe in the team and believe in the players so much that it’s obvious that they’ve improved from the beginning of the season. So I don’t think we have a ceiling. It just will require a lot of hard work, belief and mental toughness, which we’re working on.

Anything else you would like to add on?

I want to give a  shout out to the JV coach and the freshman coach. Coach Hashimoto, who’s an engineering teacher here, is taking up the JV team. And we have a freshman parent of a student here, Coach Leal, who is from Dawes Elementary. She is taking on the freshman team. I’m teaching them and giving them everything I know to be as successful as possible. They’re both first year coaches in the girls volleyball program, but I am very proud of and impressed by their dedication and their commitment to coaching the girls and I’m helping them achieve the success that we’ve had over the past seven years.