Despina Soennichsen (nee Morris) played volleyball for Amity High School and continued her career at UCONN, winning a Big East Championship in her sophomore year. In her 4 years at Amity, the team had a regular season record of 70-2. After losing in the Class L finals in Despina’s sophomore year, Amity went on to win the Class L title in her junior & senior years.
While at Amity, Despina was named All-SCC her junior and senior years. In her senior year, Despina was also named to the New Haven Register All-Area team, and awarded All State honors after tallying 198 kills, 91.4 service percentage, and was a dominant middle blocker for a team that did not drop a single game until the state finals, where they knocked off Southington 3-1.
Despina credits much of her success to Cathy Simmons, who was her older brother’s high school coach at Amity at the time. She believed in and encouraged Despina to play at a young age when no other younger kids were playing, and allowed Despina to participate in camps and programs meant for older players.
Additionally, Despina would like to thank Nell-Ann Lynch (nee Aloi), and Paul Thees. Nell was the Amity JV coach at the time, and as a former UCONN player herself, gave Despina the confidence and encouragement to pursue her volleyball career at the collegiate level. As the head coach at Amity, Paul Thees oversaw the team to much of its success.
Directly from college, Despina was hired as the assistant coach at Quinnipiac University and also started coaching for Connecticut Juniors Volleyball. She continued to play volleyball at the CT Sports Center in Woodbridge, where she met her future husband, Ryan.
Despina was also a stand our basketball player at Amity, named captain her senior year.
Currently, Despina is a special education paraprofessional in the Wilton school system, and still coaches for Connecticut Juniors Volleyball when her schedule allows.
Lisa Cirmo Peterson played for Cheshire High School and was coached by Cynthia Hitchcock from 1976-1978. In 1978, Lisa was chosen captain of the team.
In 1976, Cheshire volleyball captured the Housatonic League championship and won the Connecticut Class M title. In 1977, Cheshire once again won both the league and state championships and, in 1977, Lisa was selected as a member of the All-Housatonic league.
Lisa joined her team to tour Poland in July 1976 playing exhibition volleyball, with Debbie Chin coaching the team. Cheshire was selected to participate in these “friendly” games in recognition of Coach Hitchcock’s legendary win-loss record.
Cynthia Hitchcock also coached Lisa for Cheshire High School’s track team where she was team captain in 1978 and 1979. In 1978, Lisa was honored with the Kimberly and Sandra Hitchcock Memorial Award for Sportsmanship.
In 1979, Lisa entered the University of Missouri and was invited to try out for the Division 1 volleyball team as a walk-on player.
Lisa graduated from the University of Missouri and earned a graduate degree from St. Joseph University. Her 30-year professional career includes Food and Nutrition Editor for several magazines and a registered dietitian.
Jeanne Cooper is a lifetime sports enthusiast. Playing Volleyball, Field Hockey, Basketball and Softball all four years at North Babylon High School in New York. Captain her senior year on the volleyball team, Jeanne credits her coach Marilyn Cross for instilling in her athlete’s a true sense of sportsmanship and an unwavering competitive fire to “never give up”.
Her collegiate career began at Southern Connecticut State College. Playing volleyball for future Connecticut Women’s Volleyball Hall of Famer, Lou Albrecht (Class of 2000) and then managed the team under Joan Barbarich another Connecticut Women’s Volleyball Hall of Famer (Class of 2000). Both are experiences that solidified her path of excellence. Following up her collegiate career, Jeanne became the Assistant Volleyball Coach at the University of Bridgeport working along side Cindy Laughlin.
The next 16 years, would find Jeanne at the helm of the Hillhouse High School Girls Volleyball team. Coaching the Bulldogs to numerous District League Titles and CIAC State Tournament appearances. In 1982, Hillhouse reached the State Class M Finals against Branford High School. Capping the season off with a ranking of 3rd in the state.
During her high school coaching career, Jeanne was selected as the Head Coach for the Connecticut East All-Star Team. Furthering her commitment to the sport she was a member of the CIAC Volleyball Committee and served as the CIAC Volleyball Tournament Director. In 2002 she stepped down as the Athletic Director at Hillhouse High School to become the
Director of Health Physical and Athletics for the Hamden Public Schools. After a brief retirement, Jeanne became the Director of Athletics for the Laurelton Hall College Preparatory School for Girls.
Jeanne Cooper’s career in athletics spans over 40 years. Including serving on the Southern Connecticut Conference Executive Committee and the Connecticut Association of Athletic Directors Executive Committee. She is also a recipient of the Northeast Women’s Hall of Fame Award, the Robert M Duncanson Meritorious Service Award from the CIAC and recognized of by the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association for service of 20 years.
In addition, Jeanne has been awarded the “Pathfinder Award” presented by the National Association of Girls and Women in Sports. She also received from the Women and Families Center of Central Connecticut the prestigious recognition of the “Women in Leadership Award”.
Currently residing in The Villages Florida, Jeanne finds herself playing golf, pickleball and mahjong. She volunteers for a non-profit “Friends of SoZo Kids Inc. assisting children living in poverty in the Ocala National Forest, Board member of the Open Circle MCC church and Captain of the Hacienda Hills Village Cup Team.
Ann Marie Bahantka is a graduate of Horseheads High School, and she lettered in volleyball, basketball, softball and track. She represented Central New York Region at three Empire State Games before attending college where she played for the University of New Haven under legendary head coach Debbie Chin!
Ann Marie Bahantka was a key contributor to three New Haven women’s volleyball teams that reached the NCAA postseason, including trips to the Elite Eight in both 1985 and 1988.
Highlighting her junior campaign, Bahantka led the 1987 Chargers in kills (253), hitting percentage (.257) and assists (680). The following year as a senior, she led the Blue and Gold in kills, assists, digs and blocks en route to a 44-6 record and Most Valuable Player honors at the NCAA Regionals. A four-year starter, she earned All-New England Collegiate Conference honors three times and a pair of AVCA All-Region nods.
The Chargers went 141-38 during Bahantka’s four-year career with four NECC Championships. She finished her career with 1,515 assists, 704 kills, 519 digs and 205 blocks.
After graduation, she took over as head coach of Quinnipiac University and led the team to a then-record 32 wins as well as the Northeast-10 regular season and tournament championships. In 1992, she was chosen as the Northeast-10 Conference Coach of the Year. During her five-year tenure at QU she accumulated over 115 wins.
She has been inducted into the Horsehead’s High School Hall of Fame as well as the University of New Haven Hall of Fame.
I never intended to coach (Debbie Chin made me do it) but I was grateful to have the opportunity to give back. Some of my favorite moments were in Costa Rica, Barbados, St Thomas, New Haven middle schools and throughout the Northeast running and participating in clinics to promote Volleyball. I loved practice, training and teaching possibly more than the matches.
Ann Marie’s biggest influence was International Volleyball Hall of Famer, Debbie Green. “She was the reason I wanted to be a setter! She wasn’t the biggest but she led our Olympic teams with poise, dignity and a fierce competitiveness. My greatest moment was meeting her at the national championships (thank you Fran Vandermeer). She was just as classy if not more in person.”
Ann Marie is the co-owner of The Photography Bar and Executive Director of Production Services for Overabove in Chester, CT. She resides in Manchester, New Hampshire with her partner Holly and their canine son Franklin.
While attending Seymour High School in the late 70s, Cathy played the two standard high school sports for girls at the time, basketball and softball. Seymour was a small school with a yearly turnover of coaches interested in girls’ athletics. Most seasons, teams were lucky to win 4 or 5 of the 16 games played, which never sat well with Cathy, as she always hated to lose at anything.
Not long after Cathy received her finance degree from Quinnipiac College, she got married, had three sons, and started a career in business. After twelve years in the business world, she decided to return to Seymour and pursue her passion for teaching. In addition to teaching, Cathy wanted to coach. Unfortunately, with both the basketball and softball programs flourishing at Seymour, no coaching positions were available.
In the summer of 1999, she received a call from a parent, asking her to coach the volleyball team. Cathy politely declined, as she had no previous experience with volleyball, other than playing in a rec league and backyard picnics. Then, two weeks before the start of the school year, Cathy received another call letting her know that the volleyball program was going to be dropped if they couldn’t find a coach. Cathy agreed to take the position.
Over the next two weeks, Cathy grabbed every book and video the local libraries had available, and began her quest to learn the game of volleyball. She put her faith in the well-known quote from Theodore Roosevelt, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”.
On the day before the first season began, Seymour’s head football coach, Paul Sponheimer came to see her. He was pleased she was taking over “The cupcake squad”. According to Paul, the volleyball girls were more interested in eating cupcakes after the games than actually playing volleyball. The comment fired up Cathy’s competitive spirit as she vowed to never let that happen under her watch.
Twenty-three seasons later, Cathy is the assistant athletic director at Seymour, teaching 5 math classes a day, coaching, and still trying to learn the game of volleyball. Her cupcake squad has won over 440 matches, garnering 8 league titles, 6 State final appearances, and 3 State titles along the way.
Cathy was named the Connecticut Volleyball Coach of the year and a National Coach of the year finalist in 2022. She was named the New Haven Register Coach of the year three times but is most proud of her team’s recognition for receiving the sportsmanship award twice from the Connecticut Volleyball Officials Association.
Cathy credits her parents for her strong work ethic: Work for everything, nothing is easy. Her dad fostered her love of athletics by bringing her to numerous sporting events and playing catch, shooting hoops, and playing games in the yard almost every night.
Tyrone Fuertes first played on the 8th grade volleyball team at Holy Cross in Dewitt, NY coached by Sister Michael Joseph. In high school at New Hartford Central, since there was not a boys’ volleyball program, Tyrone only played in gym class. In 1986 he received his Bachelor’s degree in Music Performance from the Manhattan School of music. He was so focused in that field that there was no time to play volleyball or any sports unless he was free by chance. Years later he was working on his Master’s degree in Music at the University of Connecticut in the 1990’s, it was at UCONN where he got involved with intramurals and the opportunity to try out and play for the Men’s Club Volleyball team from 1996-1998. It was also during that period that Tyrone had the opportunity to work and play for the future CWVBHF inductee, Jung Park, as an older graduate student. Tyrone got involved as an official in soccer, flag football, basketball and volleyball for UCONN recreational services.
In 1997 he would work on his USA Volleyball certification and receive his Provisional rating during the 1999-2000 season for the New England Region. It was also in 2000 he would receive his certification in High School Federation for the Connecticut Board of Volleyball Officials Northern Board. In 2002, he was asked to join the college board in the CT/RI area. In 2003-2004 he received his certification as a Line Judge and Scorekeeping for Professional Association of Volleyball Officials. As he gradually was moving up the ranks, he received his Regional Rating in 2005 for New England. In 2007 he received his State rating for PAVO. In 2009 he received his PAVO National LJ certification. In 2010 he received his Jr. National Rating for USAV. In 2013 he received his National Scorekeeping rating for USA Volleyball. From 2006-2017 he was the head trainer in charge of training new officials for the CBVO Northern Board. From 2013 to the present he is the Scorekeeping chair for the New England region.
He is among an elite group of officials to work the CIAC State Tournament Finals for both the Girls and Boys as either the Referee, Line Judge or Scorekeeper. For the NCAA as a Line Judge and Scorekeeper he has worked 7 Div. I Women’s Conference Finals, 9 Div. II Women’s Regional Finals, 4 Div. III Women’s Regional Finals, and 3 Men’s Div. III Final Fours. For the NCAA as an official he has worked the Great Northeast Athletic Conference, Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference, New England Women’s & Men’s Athletic Conference tournaments as well as the championship for the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference. For USA Volleyball he has worked championships for both the Girls and Boys National Tournaments as either the Referee, Line Judge, Scorekeeper and the Assistant Scorekeeper. Tyrone currently works for the University of Hartford Athletic Department as the Director of Intramurals. This is a position he has held since Sept 11, 2001. Tyrone while working for the University of Hartford, also received his Master’s degree in Business Administration in 2012.