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Shaler grads Bozzo (Syracuse), Kline (UConn) hoping to play big roles in improving volleyball teams

| Sunday, July 9, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Lizzie Kline (Shaler), a rising junior, served as captain for the UConn women's volleyball team as a sophomore last season.
UConn Athletics
Lizzie Kline (Shaler), a rising junior, served as captain for the UConn women's volleyball team as a sophomore last season.
Shaler's Annie Bozzo, a rising junior setter at Syracuse averaged 2.72 assists per set last season.
Syracuse University
Shaler's Annie Bozzo, a rising junior setter at Syracuse averaged 2.72 assists per set last season.

Shaler graduates Annie Bozzo and Lizzie Kline started playing sports together at age 4. The past two years, however, they looked at each other from opposite sides of a volleyball net.

Bozzo is a rising junior setter for Syracuse, and Kline is a rising junior defensive specialist/libero for UConn. The Orange and Huskies met once in each of the past two seasons, splitting the nonconference matches.

“It was actually really fun,” Bozzo said of the head-to-head meetings. “Lizzie and I have always had a great competitive spirit between us.”

Syracuse and UConn won't meet this fall. So with their friendly competition on hold, Bozzo and Kline will focus on helping their respective teams rebound from subpar seasons.

UConn started 11-2 but finished 16-15 after, coach Kris Grunwald said, some of the seniors “leadership-wise let the ball drop” when they moved into less-prominent roles. Kline showed up in Grunwald's office the day after the final match to assure him that would not happen again.

That approach, Grunwald said, is typical of Kline, who played in all 31 matches and had 226 digs. It is what earned her a co-captain role as a sophomore. It has helped her generate perhaps her most important statistic: All four volleyball recruits she has hosted committed to the Huskies.

“Lizzie is one of those rare people who walks into a room, and people want to be around her,” Grunwald said. “People walk into our gym and say, ‘Who do I want to be most like?' Lizzie is that person.”

Said Bozzo: “She has this passion for the game that you can't match. She just brings the team up so much with her energy and enthusiasm for the game.”

Syracuse, meanwhile, is seeking growth after last season's young team took its lumps. When Bozzo was a freshman, the Orange went 23-8, including a late-season victory over Pitt that Bozzo called the most exciting match of her life. Dozens of friends and family showed up at Fitzgerald Field House and saw her contribute 12 assists and five digs to the win.

Bozzo averaged an assist per set (68 total in 29 matches) that season. Her numbers went up last fall (174 total assists, 2.72 per set), but the Orange finished 7-23 with a roster of mostly freshmen and sophomores.

As one of the Orange's more experienced players, Bozzo will be asked to take on a bigger leadership role. While she said her leadership qualities manifest themselves more off the court — she said she often befriends the underclass players and helps them navigate college life — Kline said her long-time teammate commands plenty of respect on it.

“She speaks her mind when she needs to, and I think that's a really good trait,” Kline said. “I think the other players look up to her. She carries herself with a lot of confidence, and you're not going to make it on the court without that.”

Syracuse will return to Pitt on Sept. 22 for their second ACC match of 2017. By then, Bozzo hopes the Orange will have their season headed in the right direction.

“For this year, we're just hoping to build from last year,” she said. “We learned a lot from all our games. We try not to focus on the negative. Our saying is, ‘New team. New traditions.' ”

Likewise, Kline is optimistic about the Huskies' chances to improve and make last year's collapse a distant memory.

“I feel like last season we kind of hit rock bottom,” she said. “And when you're at rock bottom, there's only one way to go. I know we're going to be much better.”

Chuck Curti is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at ccurti@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CCurti_Trib.

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