Greenwich Academy volleyball looking for encore performance

The Greenwich Academy volleyball team will be bringing back all but two returners from last year's FAA championship team. Needless to say, expectations for the Gators are very high. — John Ferris Robben photo

The Greenwich Academy volleyball team will be bringing back all but two returners from last year’s FAA championship team. Needless to say, expectations for the Gators are very high. — John Ferris Robben photo

After coming off the most memorable season in recent memory for head coach Christy Girard, the Greenwich Academy volleyball team is looking to keep the good times rolling this season.

And with all but two players returning, Girard has a confident group of Gators this season.

“This is my favorite time of the season,” Girard said. “I love volleyball season. This team has the largest group of seniors that we’ve had here. We have 11 seniors and a lot of experience here. To have these girls that have played so long together is a great dynamic. It makes it really hard for me to choose teams, but it makes for the team chemistry.”

Last year, the Gators were a force to be reckoned with. After piling up the victories, GA entered the FAA tournament and came away with the conference championship.

“There aren’t any big moves in positions,” Girard said. “We are just going to fill the positions left by the two seniors that graduated. I have a good feeling about this season. We are going to have a good hitting season.”

When it comes to leading the team, tri-captains junior Phoebe Morris and seniors Caroline Zhao and Ellen Clark are a perfect fit, according to Girard. Morris will be one of the team’s outside hitters, while Clark will be positioned as a middle blockers. Zhao is one of the team’s top two setters.

“This is the first year we’ve ever had three captains,” Girard said. “Both seniors have been playing for several years on varsity and have played very well the entire time. Both are great team players and great leaders. Phoebe has been playing since her freshman year and has just as much playing experience as the other two. Phoebe has a lot of energy and a lot of drive. It’s a nice mixture of leadership.”

The Greenwich Academy volleyball team will be bringing back all but two returners from last year's FAA championship team. Needless to say, expectations for the Gators are very high. — John Ferris Robben photo

The Greenwich Academy volleyball team will be bringing back all but two returners from last year’s FAA championship team. Needless to say, expectations for the Gators are very high. — John Ferris Robben photo

Last season, Girard wasn’t sure what to expect from her Greenwich Academy volleyball team. She knew they were young and inexperienced, but were also highly talented volleyball players.

“We had our best record ever last year,” Girard said. “We won the FAA and it was amazing. However we lost two seniors that really meant a lot to the program. Tyla Taylor, who is now playing a Wesleyan, and Zoe Morris, who was our setter. We have some huge holes to fill and it was our biggest goal. We need to fill those shoes.”

Stepping up to the plate this season for Greenwich Academy and trying to fill the shoes left by Morris is captain Caroline Zhao and Jessica Liu.

Zhou, a senior, will be replacing Morris as one of the team’s setter and is one of the smartest players on the team, according to Girard.

“It’s great that she’s so smart and understands the game so much,” Girard said. “It’s a position that has a lot of responsibility. It has a lot to do with the mental game. She’s like the quarterback of the team.”

Although Greenwich Academy is a team filled with seniors, it’s a sophomore that will be also help replace Morris. According to Girard, Liu is extremely athletic and also is intelligent when around the volleyball.

“She’s fast out of the box and is smart,” Girard said. “As a sophomore, to know the potential that I am going to have and to train a sophomore, is great. It’s a relief that we have a younger athlete with a lot of potential. She is passionate about volleyball, just like Caroline is.”

Seniors Olivia Hartwell and Clare Ryan are coming back from last year and will be a big addition to this year’s team, as they take over the spot that the Taylor competed in prior to graduation. Ryan is known for her outside hitting and Hartwell will be key to the team in the front row, as well as a defensive specialist.

Returning libero will be Paloma Corrigan, as the junior will be a third-year varsity player for GA. Girard said that Corrigan is a confident player and great leader for the younger girls.

When it comes to the middle blockers, GA is loaded with talent, as seniors Kayla Johnson and captain Ellen Clark will lead the way. Joining them will be newcomer to the varsity team, freshman Grace Zhao, the younger sister of captain Caroline Zhao.

 Senior Kennedy Woods, a returning lefty standout for the team, will be playing offside.

“She’s a terrific passer and jump server,” Girard said. “She’s great at offside hitting. Being a lefty, it makes it great when she is outside. That’s her natural swing.”

For Girard, the strength of the easy is an easy choice, as the experience returning from a team that won the FAA championship will be key to this year’s success.

“These girls aren’t going to be nervous getting on the court,” the head coach said. “They’ve seen it before and that’s going to be promising for us. I expect that, with a new setter, we are going to be really solid again in that position. Come November, that setter won’t be a rookie setter, and that will be huge. I expect our end of the season to be heavy and hard-hitting.”

This time around, the Gators will not be sneaking up on any teams in the FAA. Girard knows that the defending FAA champions are the teams that other programs look to play their best.

“They’re going to be coming for us and it’s not going to be easy,” Girard said. “King has a terrific middle blocker and always come out strong. Convent of the Sacred Heart will be another hard team. They have a girl that is one of the best setters around. There’s going to be pressure on us.”

Helping the Gators get stay at the top of their game will be assistant coach Dina Ding, who certainly knows the sport of volleyball. In 1997 she finished 25th in the FIVB World Tour for beach volleyball and Ding represented China in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Ding was also chosen as one of the torch bearers for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China.

“Dina has played since she was eight-years-old and is amazing,” Girard said. “She’s an all-around amazing coach and player. She’s teaching me things every day, but she’s so good with children and connecting with kids.”

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