When one door shut, Cheshire volleyball's Avery Mola opened another with Regis College

Avery Mola and the Cheshire girls volleyball team were getting ready to leave Branford High after shutting out their hosts in a late-season match when they were approached by a fan of their opponent.

“This gentleman walks up and says ‘you’re nasty. I wouldn’t want to get in front of some of those things you’re hitting’,” Cheshire coach Sue Bavone said with a laugh.

That reaction isn’t surprising. For four years, Mola, a two-time SCC Player of the Year, has been delivering big hits and big plays while helping the Rams contend for conference and state crowns.

She’s overcome obstacles, including learning a new position during her high school career and adjusting to an almost entirely revamped starting lineup as a senior.

Those pale in comparison to the challenge she faced earlier this year when she went through the difficult college recruiting process not once, but twice in the span of six months.

After making a verbal commitment to Felician University in New Jersey last December, Mola received a devastating text from coach John Chang in May: He was leaving the program and she was thrown back into the recruiting pool.

“That was very upsetting because I was done with the process for a while,” Mola said. “I was done and there was less pressure.”

It didn’t take long for Mola to start on a new, and perhaps better, path.

On a suggestion from her mom, Mola reached out to Regis College coach Josh Anderson, whom she had spoken to at a showcase in the summer of 2021.

In July, less than two months after receiving the bad news from Felician, Mola committed to play for Anderson and the Pride.

“Regis really, really looked like a nice school and a great program,” Mola said. “Over the summer, I was able to make a visit. They took me around the campus, showed me the gym, the locker room, the athlete-only gym, and it was really cool.”

“I was never concerned about Avery being able to play in college,” Bavone said. “I knew she’d be able to play, I just wanted her to land somewhere where she was happy at the school.”

Since July, Mola has been able to fully focus on the Rams.

Cheshire, a perennial power, graduated most of its starting lineup. Mola is the clear-cut leader, but there were early growing pains as players adjusted to their new starting roles.

The Rams (21-2) eventually found their groove and the SCC’s tournament champion carries a 12-game win streak into the Class LL state tournament after defeating Amity Saturday. The Rams are the No. 2 seed in Class LL and open play Thursday after earning a bye to the second round.

“It was definitely an adjustment at the beginning of the year, but (the seniors) knew that eventually we were going to have to step up big time, and honestly, I think we really did,” Mola said. “They really stepped up and killed it this year. They’re knocking it out of the park.

“Everyone’s working so hard and I’m so incredibly proud of them.”

In 21 matches, Mola, an outside hitter, leads the Rams with 295 kills and has also collected 63 aces, 82 digs and 11 blocks, with a hitting percentage of .323 and a 90% serve rate.

She’s 5-foot-9, but that height hides someone who can really deliver the goods.

“If you just watched us walking into the gym, you’d never pick her out as the player that she is,” Bavone said. “But she’s dynamic to watch. It’s amazing to me that no matter what angle she’s coming at the ball or where she is, she always manages to get herself around the ball and get it in the court.”

Mola played as a middle hitter from middle school to her sophomore year and although she loved the position, she realized her options were limited there at the next level.

“I wanted to play in college so bad, so I said I’d switch over to outside and see what happens,” Mola said, “That was the best decision of my entire career. Outside is a breath of fresh air. If you’re not up at the front blocking or hitting, you’re in the back row, or you’re serving, you’re passing. It’s honestly better for your overall skills.”

While Mola had to carry the team in the first few weeks of the season, Cheshire is now showing depth.

Bavone said Alex Lucas has grown into another solid option at outside hitter, Kat Ulicki and Eva Catalanotto are playing well in the middle, and Lauren Samela becoming a star libero.

“Avery did feel the pressure of having to carry us, especially at the beginning of the year,” Bavone said. “We’ve worked really hard to build up the team around Avery. Now we have confidence in other players. That’s taken pressure off of Avery and she’s playing a lot looser. She can play a little more free and have a little more fun with it.”

For Mola, her career is down to its final few weeks, as the postseason is “life or death,” but the senior is ready for the spotlight.

“Tournament time is one of my favorite times of the year,” Mola said. “You’re fighting a little bit extra hard for everything that you do. You’re fighting for every ball and every single play, and I love that. I love being able to do that with my friends on the team.”

David.Stewart@hearstmediact.com; @dstewartsports