This year, Royalton-Hartland girls volleyball coach Bill Holahan welcomed back six key players from the Rams squad that went undefeated in Niagara-Orleans League play last year. Five of those six were starters, one of those five is a 6-foot-2 Division I recruit and the entire team makes up, in his view, "the nicest 12 girls in the school."
His assistant coach is a former Roy-Hart and Daemen standout, Erin Holahan -- who also happens to be his daughter.
Yes, life is good for Holahan.
"It doesn't get a whole lot better," said Holahan, who is in his 34th year coaching at Roy-Hart.
The Rams return senior captains Michelle Quackenbush (libero) and Caitlin Lewandowski (swing hitter), senior setter Tanya Brewer, junior hitter Shelby Schwaibold and sophomore hitter Stephanie Wood.
Then there is two-time all-N-O first teamer Bridget Shanahan, a 6-2 junior middle blocker who was an All-Western New York second-team selection last year. Thanks to playing on elite club teams with Niagara Frontier Volleyball, Shanahan was among players selected for a USA Volleyball national camp in Florida in July.
On Sept. 1 -- the first day coaches could contact recruits -- Shanahan's mailbox started to fill up.
"It's pretty intense," said Shanahan. "It's crazy -- a lot of the colleges are very persistent and they try and contact you as much as they can. There are letters and e-mails, and I'll call some of the coaches sometimes just to get personal contact with them."
Georgetown, Duke, North Carolina, Nevada-Las Vegas and the University at Buffalo are just a few of the schools that have contacted Shanahan.
"She has excited recruiters across the country," said Eden coach Stephen Pierce, who has worked with Shanahan at Niagara Frontier. "She is just very powerful, very quick and she obviously has the size. She's a really hard worker. The big line that college recruiters are using about her is 'she has a big upside,' which means they think her ceiling of potential is very high."
Shanahan has been playing on the Roy-Hart varsity since eighth grade.
"Bridget is far and away the best hitter I've had," said Holahan, "and we've had good ones. You get a kid like this once in a career, if you're very lucky."
Holahan stressed that despite the accolades and big-time volleyball that Shanahan has played, her demeanor fits in with her high school teammates.
"She's so unassuming, and in terms of coachability, she ranks up there with anyone I've ever had," said Holahan. "To have that much talent and be very coachable, it's just a joy."
Her teammates agreed.
"It's amazing [to have a teammate like Shanahan]," said captain Quackenbush. "It's so encouraging. To hear a compliment from her, you feel so much better because you know the girls that she's played with and they're awesome."
Shanahan showed how pivotal she can be in a match last week against Albion that Roy-Hart won in four games.
"In sets three and four, we were able to get her the ball, and that's just where she just separated herself from the other kids," said Holahan.
Holahan stressed that Albion and 6-2 middle hitter Casey Button and Paige Golden will be tough when the teams meet again later in the season. A defensively-strong Newfane team anchored by junior Nicole Adamson is expected to be in the top half of the league while upset-minded Akron and Wilson will be tough.
Roy-Hart has won 10 league championships under Holahan, with last year's title the program's first since 1997. The team hasn't won a sectional title since 1996 but is hoping to make a run in Class C. Last year the Rams fell in the semifinals to eventual state champion Salamanca.
"Undefeated in the league is our big goal right now," said Quackenbush. "Then hopefully sectionals . . . one step at a time."
>On the Web
Check out video interviews with Roy-Hart players at the Prep Talk blog at buffalonews.com/blogs