BY MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — Through its first three matches of the year, the Niskayuna High School girls’ volleyball team has the look of an improved squad.
Its passing is better. Its defense is solid. Its communication is sound.
“And,” Niskayuna junior Molly Mason said, “Stefana is killing it.”
Stefana Stan, the team’s sophomore outside hitter, has become a force for the Silver Warriors. She’s registered five kills in each of the team’s first three Suburban Council matches this season, and has developed into an all-around star for a Niskayuna squad off to a 2-1 start.
“She’s bringing a whole different energy,” said Mason, the team’s libero. “She’s such a bubbly person, and then she gets a kill — and she’s still smiling as she does it. She has a positive energy for this team.”
Stan was a contributor last season for the Silver Warriors as they made it to the Section II Class AA semifinals. But a switch from middle blocker to outside hitter before this season has unleashed Stan, a player who has spent part of her last two summers representing the Iroquois-Empire Volleyball Association at USA Volleyball’s High Performance Championships in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“With her, she’s so physically strong,” Niskayuna head coach Christina Coons said of Stan. “That was one of the reasons we made the transition to get her swinging from the outside for us. We wanted to get her more reps and use that power.”
“The approach to hitting is different from the middle to the outside,” Stan said, “so it took a little time to be able to get [used to it].”
It’s more difficult for opponents, though, to deal with Stan at her new position. In a Suburban Council match this past week against Shenendehowa — Section II Class AA’s seven-time defending champion — Stan dominated the Plainsmen for a long stretch of the first set. Head coach Lori Kessler’s Shenendehowa squad ended up making a comeback to win that set — and the match, in straight sets — but had to adjust its defense to account for Stan.
“She’s a great player,” Kessler said. “She was really crushing balls down the line on us in that set. There’s a lot to come from her.”
Stan’s getting more chances to show that this year. In her new role, she doesn’t come off the floor for the Silver Warriors. While she’s at her best near the net, she’s more than capable playing in the back row for Niskayuna, and has enjoyed her increased opportunity to stay on the court.
“I really like it because I like pumping up my team,” Stan said, “and just being there [on the court] when we’re down and when we’re up.”
From 2016 to 2017, Coons said Stan’s improvement in terms of her playing ability is obvious, but what’s been more important for the Silver Warriors is the increased leadership role she has taken on this season as a sophomore.
“That’s where she shows her maturing from last year,” Coons said. “As a freshman, she didn’t really have her voice yet. Now she knows it doesn’t matter how old she is.”