GROTON -- Head coach Lisa LaPierre's team started its season much like they finished it last year, with a highly-competitive loss to Marlborough.
But, last year's loss was a bit tougher to swallow, according to senior captain Katie Harte.
"Oh yeah, they had won the playoffs the year before," Harte said about facing Marlborough. "That was a really tough game. We hadn't played against Marlborough before.
"That was a fun game to play again, and they ended up being our season-opener this year. We kind of ended last year how we started this year. We lost again to them this year, but it was a fun game."
The Lady Crusaders started their season out of league with losses to Marlboro and North Andover. Last Tuesday, Groton-Dunstable picked up its first win of the season with a straight game sweep of Nashoba.
This year's team features three seniors, Sarah Georges, Harte and Katrina Kangwijaya.
Harte will assume the setter position this fall for the Lady Crusaders.
"She is just a leader on the floor," LaPierre said. "She is filling a role for a senior who graduated last year. She is filling it well. "She is my captain because of her strong work ethic. She is just a good role model for the younger kids, and she is committed to the program."
Sophomore setter Rose O'Malley has been a member of the Lady Crusaders' varsity team since she was a freshman. According to LaPierre, her versatility works to her advantage.
"She is such a well-rounded player," the coach said. "She passes well, she serves well. She is very consistent and has the fundamentals down."
Junior outside hitter Courtney Hartzel has put in the necessary hours at the gym to elevate her game to a whole new level. And, it has not gone unrecognized by LaPierre.
"She has worked tremendously hard in the off-season and came in as a starter," the coach said. "She played club over the summer and in the winter. She is dedicated to the game and has strong fundamental skills."
At the other outside hitter position is junior Taylor White. White made the jump from soccer last year, and she has already cracked the starting lineup.
"Her athleticism allows her to pick up the sport quickly and make an impact in the game," LaPierre said. "I graduated my four big hitters last year and it was a little questionable as to who was going to fill that role. She worked hard in the off-season and was able to come in and fill that role nicely."
Filling the middle positions will be juniors Jamie Debreceni and Alex Pray.
Debreceni is a multifaceted player, who has the tools to do just about anything on the court.
"Usually, as a middle hitter, you use your libero, but she has the ability to dig the ball really well," said LaPierre. "She is able to play defense. She just has great reflexes. She is a tremendous leader on the court."
Pray is a seasoned veteran with outstanding court vision.
"Alex is a very smart player," LaPierre said. "She always knows where to dump the ball or put the ball. She is very coachable. Whatever it is you ask her to do, she will do it and practice it until she gets it correct."
In the libero spot will be Kangwijaya, a fearless leader when it comes to chasing down what some might consider unplayable balls.
"She digs the ball everywhere," the coach said. "She is able to get to a lot of balls all over the court. She is vocal back there. I am pretty confident that any ball that gets hit to her is going to get to where it needs to be."
Contributing off the bench will be sophomore outside hitters Laura Bieren and Georges.
After finishing the regular season 12-6, Groton-Dunstable picked up a home match in the opening round of the Central Mass playoffs against Marlboro. The Lady Crusaders also earned a share of the league title with Hudson.
In comparison to where they were last year, the Lady Crusaders have increased their skill through playing club volleyball in the off-season. But skill will only carry them so far.
"We are more advanced skill-wise than we were last year," LaPierre said. "What is going to be important is jelling the new kids on the team. I have just six returners, and the other nine are new to varsity. We are playing it one game at a time. The biggest thing for us philosophy-wise this year will be staying consistent on the court and finishing-out games."