FSU volleyball team serves up sisterhood

FSU volleyball players Morgan Failla and Alyssa Cafarelli, who have been playing the game since the sixth grade, won’t let a canceled season dull their passion for the sport.

Senior Captain Failla, who is from Rhode Island, said, “My middle school had a program and I fell in love with it. I started to do travel volleyball in eighth grade.

“After the school season, in the off-season, we would travel around New England for tournaments. My first time being in the team atmosphere and working together for a common goal taught me a lot,” she added.

Failla’s high school experience was different from her time playing at FSU.

Although Failla played three years on varsity, she did not enjoy it.

“My high school team was terrible. I did not have a great relationship with my coach,” said Failla.

She added, “I kept playing travel volleyball throughout high school and that is where I learned most of my skills. My high school team was really nothing to talk about.”

When asked why she chose to play volleyball for FSU, Failla said her number one reason was because she got along with her coach.

“I really like all the goals that he was working towards with the team,” said Failla. “His positive vibe is really awesome.”

Failla added, “He pushes us super hard – that was something I knew I really needed. I can’t just have a coach that lets me do whatever. I need someone to constantly be on me and he is always on me.

“I also just fell in love with the school. I love the small, close-knit atmosphere that Framingham State has,” said Failla.

She expressed her sadness about COVID-19 canceling her season.

“I was really upset and kind of mad about it. I know a lot of girls on the team felt the same way,” she said.

Failla added, “We only practice twice a week right now which is a huge difference from our usual season where we are in the gym six days a week. Initially, I was really upset because I knew I wasn’t going to play as much volleyball.”

She discussed the positive aspects that have come from her season being canceled.

“Some positives have come out of this. We are all really working together. We are learning about each other and we can deal with things differently. We have been taking things slower and doing things step by step,” said Failla.

“From a captain’s standpoint, I have to take things really seriously. I decided that we are going to meet once a week as a team to talk about what goals we have for the week,” she said.

Failla added, “Meeting once per week has been really crucial for team building and playing cohesively. We want to make well worth of our time.”

She is taking a mix of online and in-person classes and is close to campus, allowing her to connect with teammates.

Failla said, “We are doing our two practices per week and working out after practice. We are just doing that for now – who knows how the virus is going to impact our next season?

“We technically can’t all be in the weight room together because it is limited to 10 people. We can’t lift as a team right now, so that is on pause. We have been doing plyometric stuff and agility training in the gym with one of the trainers,” she said.

“Personally, I work out by myself. I run and do more agility stuff. I know some of the girls lift on their own, but I am kind of grossed out by going into a gym right now because of COVID.”

Failla did not think COVID-19 would cancel her season. “I personally thought this was going to last a month-and-a-half to two months,” said Failla.

“I think it was the right call to cancel the season. I feel safe at school and I think the precautionary measures everyone is taking is making a difference,” she said.

Failla added, “For an indoor sport, I think it would be gross to play inside with COVID. I wouldn’t want any of the girls touching me.

“I feel weird putting a timeline on when I think we’ll be able to play again. Who would have thought this would still be going on? I think it’s so hard to predict. I hope we can start up again next fall,” she said.

Failla is planning on getting her master’s from Framingham State, so she will have another year to play.

She reflected on her fondest memory playing volleyball for FSU.

“There is one game that stood out to me. When we were playing Elms College, we had to fight for every point. We had an issue of playing together, and I think in that game, we proved that we were playing for each other,” she said.

Failla added, “It was awesome. We were all playing for the same goal. I think that was my favorite memory because it wasn’t the game that was worth anything, it was us coming together.”

She discussed how well the team performed last season.

“We came in second in the MASCAC – we lost to Westfield. They are a great team and honestly, they deserved it,” she said.

Failla expressed enthusiasm about next year’s team goals. “One thing that we have been stressing a lot on the team is making small goals. We always have the big goal to win the MASCAC every year.”

She added, “Our big goal is to be there for each other in order to work as a team and win.”

Failla discussed how FSU volleyball has shaped her as a person.

“I think it has made me a much stronger individual. Being on the team has made me a hard worker. It has made me want to prove to myself that I can push through whatever I am up against. On the court, I have improved tremendously,” said Failla.

She added, “The work I have done for the team that I am most proud of is, I make sure every single practice, that every single person, is doing the right thing. We are constantly coming together. The communication aspect is something that I made happen every day.”

The senior captain had advice to share with underclassmen for the upcoming seasons.

“Don’t look back. Play your hardest every second. Keep working towards being a better player,” she said.

Their coach has helped the team be successful. “He has taught us all to believe in ourselves. He has taught us to always play through, no matter what we are up against,” she said.

Although Failla is the only senior and captain, she has had help leading the team.

“Brandee Thomas has been crucial. Also, Anna Szymanski. She has been an awesome role model for everyone,” she said.

Defensive Specialist Alyssa Cafarelli, who is from Arizona, also shared her thoughts about the season’s cancelation.

“I began playing volleyball in the sixth grade. I quit competitive gymnastics after eight years and wanted to try something new. One of my elementary school teachers was a club volleyball coach and wanted me to try out,” she said.

Cafarelli added, “I never touched a volleyball once before those tryouts and trusted my athleticism and hard work to allow me to succeed.”

She was upset this season was canceled due to COVID-19.

“When I got the news regarding our season being canceled in the fall, I was very devastated, to say the least,” Cafarelli said. “It was the first thing I woke up to in the morning and it completely ruined my day. The team was extremely sad, but we figured it could bring us closer and we aren’t the only ones in this position.”

She agrees with Failla that COVID has brought the team closer together.

“Our team has become more of a family since the upsetting news. I am excited to see our future together,” said Cafarelli.

She said being on the team has changed her life. “Over my past two seasons, the team has been my biggest supporters on and off the court. On the court, they continue to motivate me to be the best player possible and always improve my play. 

“Off the court, I have gained some of the most special friendships through this team and I am lucky to have them during tough times,” she said.

Cafarelli added, “I have worked hard to be the leader in the back row and help the younger girls feel comfortable while playing their defensive positions. I strive to always play the best defense in order to help the team succeed.”

She said, “This team is so full of potential and always working to improve their skills. The dedication and hard work from this team will help us succeed in future seasons.”

Cafarelli offered advice to the underclassmen.

“I just want to let you all know to never take a practice or game for granted. You never have any idea when it could be your last. Go out giving 110% and always enjoy the game,” she said.

“Smiling and laughing through the game always makes those crazy moments more enjoyable. Take that risk in your career and life – it could impact you forever,” Cafarelli added.

She agreed with Failla that Coach Casali has had a positive impact on the team.

“It is safe to say Coach Casali has been my biggest supporter here at Framingham State. I come a long way from home and have been through several tough obstacles. He has always been the person to calm me down in a situation and always put a smile back on my face,” said Cafarelli.

She added, “Coach has always put me before himself and has always helped me find my happiness again in rough situations. He has been one of my biggest inspirations and has made playing the game of volleyball so much fun. Coach has taught me how special volleyball can be and how quickly your career will come to an end.

“As a person, he has reminded me of how powerful I can be as an individual and to never give up when something unordinary occurs,” she said.

“I will always remember the laughs and memories I have had with Coach. I am looking forward to our future seasons together!”