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Bonnies adjusting to championship pressure

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Fontbonne Hall is still getting used to life at the top.

Gone are the days of the Bonnies chasing the Brooklyn-Queens girls’ volleyball league’s juggernaut St. Francis Prep.

The Bay Ridge school beat the Terriers in three of its four meetings last year and ended the Queens school’s seven-year reign as regular season and diocesan champions.

Fontbonne easily beat the rebuilding Terriers again in straight sets last Wednesday.

Fontbonne coach Linda Strong remembers how programs around the league were excited just to take a set off of the league’s top dogs.

That type of satisfaction now applied to opponents of her team.

“We use to say Prep is the bull’s-eye and everybody wants Prep,” Strong said. “Now everybody wants us. They want to beat us, so they can say ‘we beat Fontbonne.’ ”

The Bonnies only lost one starter from last season’s team that finished third in the Catholic state tournament. While experience is great, Strong understands the need to keep her kids from putting too much pressure on themselves to live up to the high expectations they have. The players know the stakes as well.

“I think there is a little more pressure,” said Francesca Castellano, a Molloy College-bound outside hitter. “Everyone is looking at us now. We have to get it because we made it last year, and I think everyone expects us to make it again.”

The Bonnies certainly have the tools, with one of the city’s best hitting duos in Castellano and fellow senior Emily Greenstein. Juliana DiSilvia and sophomore Katie McDonough are at middle hitter and Gab Breen and Bryn Nagel share the setting duties. Caroline Good and Christina Villarin also return.

Another diocesan title is there for taking — as well as a run for a state crown.

“I feel like we have eyes watching us now,” Greenstein said. “For the most part now I think we will be fine. We have been playing pretty well.”

It will come down to how the Bonnies handle all that comes with being on top of the mountain with everyone trying to knock you off. Strong has booked the team in a number of tournaments to keep them playing against some of the top teams New York City and Long Island have to offer. But she said her players have to have faith in each other to meet the challenge.

“They have to trust each other,” Strong said.

And not just trust each other, but trust the team’s talent as whole, something Strong felt they didn’t do at states last season. One of the reasons that dynasties and repeats happen is because that team believes without a shadow of a doubt that it is going to win while its opponent just isn’t quite sure it can measure up.

Fontbonne knows what the other side of that feels like all too well. It knows the expectations it carries now. It should embrace them and let the talent do the rest.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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