Greenwich Academy volleyball ready for strong fall season

Although the Greenwich Academy volleyball team might be a little younger than last year’s championship squad, head coach Christy Girard still believes her Gators will make some noise again this season.

Last year, the Gators made a huge leap in their volleyball program.

They finished the season 15-6 overall and won the Fairchester Athletic Association regular season championship, but fell in the semifinals of the tournament.

“I think that was one of the things that I wish we could turn around and do again,” Girard said. “It was an unfortunate loss in the semis.”

Despite the loss, the Gators qualified as the eighth seed in the New England Prep School Conference class B tournament, and that’s where the magic started.

Playing with no pressure, Greenwich Academy stunned top-seeded Governors School to advance to the semifinals, where they battled cross-town rival and FAA foe Convent of the Sacred Heart. With the commanding 3-1 (16-25, 25-18, 27-25, 25-21) victory, GA advanced to the championship game, where they captured the school’s first-ever volleyball New England crown with a 3-0 (25-19, 25-20, 25-22) win.

Although the Gators celebrated the team’s victory, Girard knew a repeat this year could be tough, as GA lost Kelly McFall, Morgan Hearne, Yukka Sekiguchi, Anabel Coleman, Emily Abbott and Nicole Cassandra to graduation.

“I think that we might be in a rebuilding year, but I am thankful that when we lost our six seniors, it didn’t take out one position,” Girard said. “I had one of my setters, one of my middles and one of my defensive specialists lost. It was spread out, so I didn’t lose a whole position fully. That is an advantage for us. I still have returning starters and that is going to be helpful.”

This year, Greenwich Academy will have two standout senior captains. Playing at the outside hitter position will be three-year varsity player Grace Evans.

“This is going to be Grace’s third year playing outside hitter and she’s a good leader,” Girard said. “She really shined during the New England finals. She built off that performance and is coming into the season solid. She’s a much more consistent outside hitter.”

Joining Evans will be setter Taylor Ohman. Girard believes that the team’s success during last fall’s New England tournament was because of Ohman’s decision making when it came to placing the ball.

“Taylor has been playing since freshman year,” Girard said. “Not only is she very athletic, but she’s a smart player. At the last moment, she could get the ball to any of the players. She doesn’t have a certain player in mind. She knows where to set the ball based on what the blockers are doing or the defense is doing. She was the difference during New Englands. She tricked the defenses and they didn’t know where the ball was going to come from.”

Joining the two senior captains in the starting lineup will be returning junior Tyla Taylor at outside hitter. To help her game improve, Taylor has been playing volleyball all offseason and was a member of the U-16 National Volleyball Team.

“She’s incredible,” Girard said. “She’s an outside hitter, but can play middle, play back row defense and is one of our main serve receivers. Tyla is so athletic that she can do anything you ask her to do. She’s also very coachable and is the type of kid that if you give her one coaching cue, she takes it to heart and practices it really hard.”

Middle blocker Caitlin James, a returning senior, will also be valuable when it comes to the team’s success. Although she’s a lefty and it’s difficult for a lefty to play middle, Girard said that James will also play on the right side for the offensive kills.

“She is very experienced and very level-headed,” Girard said. “She’s a calming force on the team and that is very important to have on the team.”

In addition to those returning athletes, the Gators will have senior defensive specialists Susan Zhou and junior Amanda Jiminez returning this season. Senior Pam Cevallos and junior Zoe Morris are newcomers to the varsity roster.

Girard also ended up taking some young players on her team. In addition to the upperclassmen playing at the varsity level, Girard will have two sophomores (Kayla Johnson and Caroline Zhao) and a freshman (Pheobe Morris) on the roster.

Both Johnson and Zhao are going to be the positioned as the team’s potential middle players. With those positions starting the team’s defense and their main blockers, Girard knows they are going to have to quickly adjust to varsity competition.

“I am going to have to work with them harder than anybody else on this team,” Girard said. “They haven’t played at this level before and it’s going to take a lot of my coaching.”

“I love being able to take a freshman on the team,” Girard said. “I know I am going to able to teach her all of the positions instead of having her specialize. She’s going to be a great utility player wherever we need her. It’s going to be tough for the team in the beginning, that’s for sure,” Girard said. “But I am sure I’ll see a big jump in their skill by the end of the season.”

One of the strengths of this year’s team is that Girard believes the girls on the varsity team are taking to heart that they need to consistently improve and have been working throughout the preseason on getting stronger at volleyball, both mentally and physically.

“I think volleyball is the ultimate team sport,” Girard said. “We have six girls in a small area and they have to be able to mesh together in order to make it work. I am really excited for our scrimmages and that’s going to make us finally to be able to work together in their assigned positions. There is no fighting on my team and they work really well together.”

When it comes to looking at this year’s FAA, Girard believes that Convent of the Sacred Heart, which didn’t lose anybody from its starting lineup, will be GA’s biggest foe.

“I think a lot of teams are going to play us really hard this year, knowing the success we had last year,” Girard said. “I think Convent of the Sacred Heart is going to be very hungry, especially with them not losing any girls. I would also like to have more success in the boarding schools, like Choate and Hotchkiss. I think that’s a mental thing because we are playing against schools that do recruiting and our girls are all from around here.”

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