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Baldwin grad Sgattoni helps Navy reach NCAA volleyball tournament

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Phil Hoffmann | Navy athletics
Navy sophomore outside hitter and Baldwin graduate Maddi Sgattoni (1) will compete in the NCAA tournament in Pittsburgh Nov. 30-Dec. 1, 2018.
494396shrMaddiSgattoni121318
Phil Hoffmann | Navy athletics
Navy sophomore outside hitter and Baldwin graduate Maddi Sgattoni (1) will compete in the NCAA tournament in Pittsburgh Nov. 30-Dec. 1, 2018.

Maddi Sgattoni picked up where she left off following a highly distinguished championship volleyball career at Baldwin.

Sgattoni, who was named all-state, All-WPIAL and first-team all-section multiple times, as well as WPIAL Player of the Year twice, established herself as one of the best female netters in school history.

During her 2014 sophomore and 2015 junior seasons, Sgattoni led the Highlanders to section and WPIAL titles, berths in the PIAA semifinal round, and a 39-0 record against WPIAL opponents.

An energetic 5-foot-10 outside hitter, Sgattoni accepted a scholarship to the U.S. Naval Academy, where she made an immediate impact in the volleyball program as a starter in her freshman year.

This year, the Mids recently wrapped up a record-setting regular-season performance, and Navy coach Paco Labrador raved about Sgattoni’s contributions and athletic prowess.

“Maddi’s biggest strength as a player is her ‘complete’ game,” said Labrador, the Mids’ first-year coach who took Wittenberg to the NCAA Division II Tournament 15 times in his 15 seasons. “She is the equivalent (in baseball) of a five-tool player. She is an accomplished hitter and blocker in the front row, but also can serve, pass and play defense in the back row at the same elite level.

“Physically, Maddi has tremendous endurance. She’s able to fly around the court giving maximum effort on defense, and then rotate to the front row and take big-time swings, on every play of the match.”

Navy qualified for its first trip to the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament as a Division I program (since 1991). The tournament will take place Friday and Saturday at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center.

Navy, 23-8 overall, was co-champion of the Patriot League and won the program’s first league tournament title. The Mids will face No. 18 Michigan (22-9), which placed seventh in the Big Ten Conference, at 4 p.m. Friday in a first-round matchup.

No. 11 Pitt (29-1), the ACC champion and 12th seed in the tournament, will play MAAC titlist Iona (20-7) at 7 p.m. Friday. The final is set for 7 p.m. Saturday.

“Coming back to Pittsburgh for the first round of the NCAA tournament is a dream come true,” Sgattoni said. “It’s Navy’s first time in the tournament, and we get Pittsburgh out of all places. I am so grateful I get to play in front of my family and friends back home, and I am so proud of our team this year. We set a goal for ourselves and worked hard every day in practice to be Patriot League champions. The leadership on this team was amazing, and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of girls to win the conference with.

“We made history this year. For the first time, we are going to the NCAA tournament. This is a huge success for Navy volleyball. It wouldn’t have been possible without all of us being on board the whole season, and the hours of work we have been putting in together since late July.”

During her freshman season at Navy, Sgattoni started every match and played in 111 of her team’s 114 sets.

She led the league in aces, average aces per set, kills and average kills per set. And she earned freshman of the week honors three times.

“When I first arrived into Plebe Summer, I was scared and definitely did not know what I was getting myself into,” Sgattoni said. “Those six weeks were mentally exhausting and probably the most outside of my comfort zone I have ever been.

“Looking back on it, volleyball got me through a lot of it. Going to sports period (4-6 p.m. almost every day), and just letting the stress off with volleyball, was the best part of my day. Once preseason started it got even better, being able to be with my teammates every day in a comfortable environment.”

This season, Sgattoni was lauded as a player of the week twice and earned first-team All-Patriot League honors.

“I am not at all surprised by Maddi’s success,” Baldwin coach Chris Kelly said. “It is maybe happening a little sooner than I thought. I didn’t think she’d have such a huge impact last year as a freshman, but she did. I do know she is a natural leader and has natural talent as a volleyball player, but she is also an extremely hard worker.

“Maddi was the best player on her teams at Baldwin, yet every year, at the end of the season, we would talk and she would have a goal for something to improve on for the next season. Without fail, she always improved in that area. She is always striving to get better no matter how successful she is. She is always proving herself. To me that’s a sign of a true champion.”

Sgattoni ranked high in the league in several categories this season, including kills, kill average, aces and service aces average.

Her 353 regular-season kills ranks second among Navy sophomores during the rally scoring era (since 2001), and is fourth among all sophomores since records were first available in 1991.

She joined Rachel Shropa (1996-97) and Ashley Van Hartesvelt (2001-02) as the only players to lead Navy in kills as both a freshman and sophomore.

“As a sophomore, I’m much more comfortable,” Sgattoni said. “You get into a rhythm and adapt to the academy lifestyle. I wake up every morning and have Morning Quarters Formation at 0700. I go to class starting at 0755, lift and have lunch with my team, go back to class until 2:30 p.m., then get ready for practice from 4-6 p.m.

“After that, we go to dinner together and then the Brigade has study period from 8-10 p.m. It has become a daily normal routine that rarely changes much. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.”

Sgattoni closed out a five-set win over American in finals of the league tournament with her 25th kill of the night, 391st of the season and 697th of her career. It is being viewed as the most historic point in Navy volleyball history.

Sgattoni was named most valuable player of the tournament.

“Maddi brings a steady, consistent, composed level of play to the court that has really helped stabilize us when we are struggling,” Labrador said, “while at the same time, she executes so well that when we have momentum, she’s able to extend our streaks of points.

“Just a sophomore, Maddi has developed into our ‘go-to’ player. When the game is on the line or when we need a big play, she’s who we turn to in clutch situations.”

Sgattoni, whose her older sister and former teammate Tori is a senior dual major (elementary and special education) at Slippery Rock, is studying ocean engineering at Navy.

“There are a lot of different paths I could take coming out of the academy,” said Sgattoni, a USNA academics honors student. “Right now, I’d say I’m between going Surface Warfare or Naval Aviation.

“We get to experience the different communities this upcoming summer on something we call PROTRAMID (a four-week training that covers aviation, surface warfare, submarines and the Marine Corps). That training will hopefully give me a better idea of what I want to do.”

Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.

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