Greenwich High girls volleyball eager to show toughness in FCIAC, class LL

Members of the Greenwich High School girls volleyball team prepare for the start of the season during practice in the GHS gym. — John Ferris Robben photo

Members of the Greenwich High School girls volleyball team prepare for the start of the season during practice in the GHS gym. — John Ferris Robben photo

Although the Greenwich High School girls volleyball team lost a lot of talent to graduation, head coach Steve Lapham still has high hopes for his Lady Cardinals this season.

Last year, GHS entered the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference class LL tournament as the No. 9 seed, traveled up to South Windsor and came away with the 3-0 upset victory. However, the Cardinals ended its season with a 3-0 loss to top-seeded and eventual class LL champions Darien High School in the quarterfinals.

Not only did Greenwich fall to Darien, but also several standout athletes played their final game for Big Red. Liza Johnson was a first team All-FCIAC and second team all-state player. Ebba Mark was a second team All-FCIAC athlete and Jenny Cespedes finished as the program’s leader in blocks.

“We have key positions that we are going to try and fill from last year,” Lapham said. “Losing those players from last year left us with big holes. However I think we will still do well this year. We struggled in a couple of scrimmages earlier with our three-ball passing and decision-making and we got our work cut out for ourselves. But I think we will improve and we’re more than up for the challenge.”

Despite the losses, Greenwich is still loaded with talent, led by senior captain Mirei Kato, who Lapham said is one of the best players in the state. While Kato will have some setting duties this season, Lapham said that she’s mainly going to focus on her passing.

Fellow senior captain Xanthi Katsigiannis will be back as the team’s main setter. Replacing Cespedes at the middle is senior captain Catherine Cabano, who came on really strong for Big Red late last season.

“Xanthi has been running the show on the court for the past three years, so she definitely has those leadership abilities,” Lapham said. “Mirei battled through injuries for most of last year and it’s great to have her back. She’s been playing elite volleyball all year, so her level of play is through the roof. Her job will be to motivate the players to get their feet moving quicker and read plays. Catherine played great for us at the end of the season and really stepped up her game. I’m expecting big things from her this year.”

In addition, senior Jessie Schelz has been on the varsity squad for four years and will be joining Cabano at the middle. According to Lapham, Schelz is a strong volleyball player, knows where she needs to be on the court and that this year is her time to shine.

This season, the Lady Cardinals have a bunch of players to watch out for. Heather Desino started her time at GHS by playing the right side and was moved last year to a middle. For her senior season, Desino will be back playing outside and will also be used for her big blocks, strong serve and solid hitting abilities.

Senior Ashley Rispoli moved this year into a starting spot on the outside position.

“They are both big and strong and we got to get them working on their placement,” Lapham said.

Greenwich High head coach Steve Lapham sets the ball during a recent practice inside the GHS gym. — John Ferris Robben photo

Greenwich High head coach Steve Lapham sets the ball during a recent practice inside the GHS gym. — John Ferris Robben photo

Greenwich High also needs to fill the libero role, as Christina Brown left the school.  Senior Erin White is stepping in at libero playing defense and Lapham said that her passing skills are quite sharp.

Greenwich has numerous strengths this season, the biggest coming from the right side hitting where Kato is situated. In addition, the setting from Katsigiannis has been solid and also the team’s serving is strong.

While there are a plethora of strengths, Lapham knows there’s still work to be done.

“We need to be more consistent on the outside and put the ball into play,” Lapham said. “Right now our feeling is that if we hit it hard, we get extra points. You need to hit it in. The outsides need to develop that and the middles need to cover and get a big block or two.”

This year’s volleyball team is hard at work improving its games in practice, gearing up for the start of the season. As usual, Lapham believes his squad has the potential to reach great heights come playoff time.

“Our goal this year is to have a great regular season and fight for a good seed at FCIACs,” Lapham said. “If the FCIAC goes as normal, we are in the hunt and looking for an FCIAC seed. We also want to make a nice run at States. The seniors are doing really well and the younger players are doing a good job so far.”

In addition to the team’s tough conference schedule, Big Red added John F. Kennedy Catholic High School, located in Somers, N.Y., to its schedule.

“They are a very good team and I’m hoping it will help us a lot by playing them,” Lapham said. “I’m hoping we get a win, but we are going to play a quality team early on and that’s only going to help us for when we play Darien, Ludlowe and Stamford.”

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