Entering the season with a modified schedule and questions about the makeup of the postseason format, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, certainly hasn’t affected the Greenwich girls volleyball team’s motivation.
“There’s no title that we’re playing for yet, but we’re not letting that get to our mindset,” said Cardinals four-year starter Lilly Saleeby, a tri-captain. “Obviously, this is not how I wanted my last year to turn out, but we’re blessed to have this opportunity.”
The Cardinals, who reached the FCIAC and CIAC Class LL tournament quarterfinals in 2019, are competing in the FCIAC West region this fall, along with New Canaan, Darien, Westhill, Stamford and Wright Tech. Their 10-game schedule includes two games against each of their five opponents.
“Though the season did not shape up the way we were hoping, with the schedule, we are excited,” said longtime GHS coach Steve Lapham. “We still don’t know about what the playoffs will look like, they haven’t told us yet.”
Still, the Cards are dealing with the hand they’ve been dealt and are happy to be on the court — especially considering volleyball was at one point deemed a high-risk sport.
“We were kind of grouped in with football at one point, which was canceled, so we’re having the mindset that anything in the state can change at any second,” Saleeby said. “It seems like anything can change at any day. Just knowing that has been our motivation to play like it might be our last day.”
Joining Saleeby as captains are seniors Cornelia Roach and Chelsea Cleary. Saleeby produced a junior season that saw her register 326 kills and earn first-team All-State, GameTimeCT first-team All-State and All-FCIAC first-team accolades.
As a freshman, Saleeby, an outside hitter, started on Greenwich’s 2017 squad that captured both the FCIAC and CIAC Class LL titles.
“Lilly Saleeby is one of the strongest players in the state,” said Lapham, who guided GHS to a record of 19-3 last season, including an 18-1 regular-season mark. “She’s a good leader was starting in the state tournament as a freshman, so she has a lot of experience.”
Saleeby will continue her volleyball career at Colgate University in 2021.
“I’m so excited to play at a high level,” Saleeby said. “I was drawn to the competitive environment there. It’s a beautiful school, with great academics, so I’m super excited to start my career there.”
Cleary returns as the Cardinals’ libero — a defensive specialist position.
“Wearing masks and all the adjustments we had to make, it felt strange at first, but we adjusted really well and we are really excited that we do have a season to play,” Cleary said. “We’re all just really excited with whatever season we have.”
As a libero, Cleary will be positioned in the back row and will be relied upon for her digging and serve receive abilities.
“Our goal as a team is to play well together,” Cleary said. “We are really comfortable with each other. Most of the team has been playing for a very long time.”
Indeed, Lapham noted the team returns all of its starters from the 2019 squad, which started its season 12-0. Roach, an All-FCIAC third-team selection last fall, posted 56 blocks as a junior from her middle hitter position.
“Cornelia was a dominating blocker for us last year,” said Lapham, whose squad opens its season Thursday against visiting Wright Technical School. “She has been a force up front.”
Among the returning players is junior Adele Sotgiu, who also earned All-FCIAC honors in 2019 (second team). Like Saleeby, she lines up at outside hitter.
“I’m really excited for this year, because we have a lot of the same players as last year, so we have the opportunity to grow even more as a team and work on those things we couldn’t perfect last year,” Sotgiu said. “Our offense is really strong this year, we have tall players and our blocking can intimidate teams.”
POSITIONS: Senior Addie Leder and sophomore Lucia Spanjol are the setters, Saleeby, Sotgiu, Alina Fingold (senior) and Sophie Jones (junior) are outside hitters and Liana Sarkissian (junior), Maggie Saleeby (sophomore) and Roach are in the middle.
Seniors Thalia Doundoulakis and Caroline Mrdelja are opposite hitters, while Cleary and Gia Greschner (senior) are liberos and freshman Hayley Dionis is a defensive specialist.
“We are very tough to serve on, because we pass efficiently,” Lapham said.
Added Cleary: “We want to keep building as a team and as individual players. We’re a very well-rounded team.”
COACHING STAFF: Lapham, who is beginning his 28th season at the helm, has a career coaching record of 423-162. He coached GHS to the Class LL title in 2010 and 2017. Greenwich also won the FCIAC championship in 2013 and 2017 under his leadership.
Shawn Hoyt is a varsity assistant coach, Olivia Traina coaches the junior varsity team and Nick Fesko is the freshman coach.
SEASON OF ADJUSTMENTS
Some of the COVID-19 precautions that will be taken during matches include players wearing masks at all times during matches and teams staying on the same side of the court throughout the match. Spectators will be limited at GHS and opponents will be asked to bring their own warm-up balls.
Beginning her fourth season on the Cards, Saleeby has been a part of a wealth of winning moments.
“My freshman season, we were able to take both the state and FCIAC title, so that was a great experience,” she said. “It happened three years ago, but it seems like yesterday. Seeing that banner, it brings me such great memories, I’ll never forget that.”
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