Experienced Greenwich High girls volleyball team has high expectations

With the loss of only two starters and nearly everybody on the roster back from last year, the Greenwich High School girls volleyball team looks to take both the county and state by storm.

“If we are all healthy, I think we could make a run at FCIACs,” said Greenwich High’s Steve Lapham, who is entering his 20th season as head coach and has an overall record of 274-122. “Obviously Darien will be the way, like they always are. Ridgefield, Staples and Stamford are all going be good. I think our team is scrappy enough that if could keep it in play and be patient, we could make a run. I want this team to work hard. They have the experience and it’s their time now. We aren’t going to wait another year. This team has the ability to win an FCIAC title. Now we’ve got to work on getting it done.”

 

Last year, Big Red entered the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference as the No. 5 seed, but were stunned in the opening round by No. 4 seeded New Canaan 3-2 (25-17, 25-21, 20-25, 22-25, 14-16).

In the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference class LL tournament, Greenwich entered with the No. 12 seed. After beating fellow FCIAC foe Fairfield Warde 3-1 (20-25, 25-12, 25-17, 25-15), Big Red took the court against another FCIAC rival, Ridefield in the second round. However, that was as far as Greenwich would get in the tourney, ending its season with a 3-0 (16-25, 22-25, 9-25) loss to the Tigers.

“Expectations are a lot higher here,” junior tri-captain Mirei Kato said. “We didn’t lose a lot of people, but we still need to step it up and keep our goals high. Preseason is usually a time where we start to get to know each other and build that chemistry. But since we’ve been playing together already, it makes things a lot easier and know what each other’s strengths and weaknesses are. We help each other and are more comfortable with each other.”

Last year, outside hitter Milena Skwarek, libero Chloe Griffasi and middle hitter Nora Houseknecht were lost to graduation.

“Milena was solid with her serve-pass and her hitter,” Lapham said. “We were one of the best serve-receive teams in the league and losing her is definitely a concern. Chloe did a great job as libero. Although we lost three strong volleyball players, we still are returning a lot of experience.”

While the three seniors who saw playing time on the varsity level were key losses, Lapham and the rest of the Cardinals knew they would have a bright future. GHS has five starters returning from last year’s team and will only add two new starters to its experienced roster.

“Having returning players is a huge plus,” senior tri-captain Liza Johnson said. “Last year our team pretty much started new. Obviously our goal is win states, but we want to take it one step at a time. We need to be strong during every game and we can’t let our nerves get the better of us. We need to bring our best and believe in our skills. Our chemistry is good right now and that’s a plus. Overall at the end of the season I think we will be really strong.”

Leading the charge for Greenwich will be tri-captains Johnson, Kato and senior Ebba Mark.

“It’s amazing,” Mark said. “I was a captain last year and it was a joy. I am thrilled to come back and fill the same role again. This is the most fun team I’ve been on. We get along so well and we are like a family. It’s a lot of fun. We have some higher expectations than last year. Last year we were just trying to get better, but this year most of the starters last year are back and we want to get farther than we did in States and FCIACs last year.”

“I need them to keep everybody cool under pressure and to lead by example,” Lapham said. “Ebba needs to pass and hit, Liza needs to block and hit. Mirei needs to do all of that.”

Kato will be the team’s go-to person and will see a lot of time with the ball. However, that won’t happen during the early portion of the season. Kato, an All-FCIAC First Team award , hurt her back and hasn’t played for Greenwich yet this season.

“I’m hoping she’ll return sooner rather than later,” Lapham said. “If she doesn’t return, that will be awful because I think we have a team that can do some damage in the league and at the state level. She’s an overall very good player. She passes well, has great hands and she’s a great setter. She’s a lefty and hits out of the right side. Not a lot of teams defend the right side very well.”

Kato said that her back is improving every day and is hoping to be back in the lineup shortly.

“I am right now helping everybody and also get to motivate and help people improve,” Kato said. “It’s not that much fun watching on the sideline, but I am hoping to come back very soon. Things are going pretty well.”

Joining Kato in setting the ball will be junior Xanthi Katsigiannis. Marks and senior Gennifer Pflug will be the team’s outside hitters.

“Jennifer is really good and has only been playing for two years,” Lapham said. “She’s solid. She passes, uses her hands well and reaches up. She has very good arm strength. She needs to keep the ball in play. Ebba has a lot of power. When she connects with the ball, she hits it hard. She never lacked strength. Where she was lacking was placement. Now she’s matured and knows where to put the ball.”

Playing in the middle will be senior Kenny Cespedes and Johnson.

“Liza is very good, but Jenny is having a breakout year,” Lapham said. “She’s snapping the ball and hitting angles. Both need to work on their blocks. That’s a big goal for us this year. I want them to get up there and make a nice double block. That way people have to hit around us or over us. We never really had that on this team and blocking has always been a weakness here.”

Senior Christina Brown will be the team’s defensive specialist, as the new starter will be at libero. Another athlete that will see a bunch of minutes on the court is junior Heather Desino.

“We are going to go to the middle more than we have in the past,” Lapham said. “I expect Liza and Jenny to have a lot more kills. We are also going to use our outsides out of the middle-back defense. Both Ebba and Jennifer can place the ball well and will see more balls there as well.”

While the team is loaded with experience, Lapham understands that his team still needs to improve its game.

“I think the team needs to work on its pressure play, serve-receive and passing,” Lapham said. “They were all shaky. We were used to having Mirei in the lineup and now that she’s out, we have players that aren’t as strong filling in. With Mireri not in the lineup, we are a weaker team.”

“We have the team dynamic down, but I think we struggle on our serve-receive and we need to be a little more aggressive coming to the ball at times,” Mark said. “I know, personally, I struggle with that. It’s also really important to keep the positive energy up. In volleyball, as soon as the energy starts lacking, everybody plays poorly.”

With the talent improving and the experience of playing in big game situations, the GHS volleyball team is hungrier than ever to regain its state championship from several years ago.

“This season is going to be really fun,” Johnson said. “I get along with all the girls on the team and we spend time together outside of practice. We have a lot of team dinners and bonding experiences and overall this is going to be fun. We all enjoy coming to practice and working hard.”

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