Greenwich High girls volleyball falls to Knights in five-set thriller

The Greenwich High School girls volleyball team has been riding a theme recently. However, it’s something head coach Steve Lapham and the rest of the Lady Cardinals are looking to rectify immediately.

On Monday, the Stamford High School Black Knights came to town. Although Greenwich took the first set, in come-from-behind fashion, Stamford didn’t back down. In a back-and-forth battle against two evenly matched teams, it was the Black Knights who came out on top in the end, beating the Lady Cardinals 3-0 (24-26, 25-21, 24-26, 25-22, 15-10).

“We knew it would be tough,” Greenwich High’s Ebba Mark said. “We knew it would be tough as soon as they walked in. They are a good team and always have a strong serve. Unfortunately, that hurt us today. This was, unfortunately, one of our worst matches. I don’t know if it was our energy. I know they are a tough team, but we should have held it together.”

“We were dead-even with them,” Stamford head coach Mike Smeriglio said. “Greenwich is a great team and Steve has done a fantastic job with them for so many years. That’s why this is such a big win for us. They are a good team, but we needed to play our game. We couldn’t adjust to them. They needed to adjust to us. It could have gone either way.”

For Greenwich, Liza Johnson led the way, netting 17 kills and four aces.

“We knew Stamford was going to be tough going into this, but the energy just wasn’t there today,” Johnson said. “Recently in a big game, I think we have fallen apart. We need to learn how to push through it like we did in the beginning of the season. I guess after the Darien game, we kind of lost our confidence. We haven’t been playing up to our potential.”

Mark was also solid for Big Red, finishing with 10 kills and two aces. Jenny Cespedes added 10 kills and four aces, while Heather Desino took home six kills. Xanthi Katsigiannis finished strong, netting a team-high 19 assists.

In her first game back from a back injury, Mirei Kato added 10 assists. Lapham knows that the team’s success for the remainder of the season is improved with Kato in the lineup.

“We just got Mirei back and that is shaking up the lineup a little bit,” Lapham said. “She has great hands and has great defense. She’s still not 100%, but we need to utilize her setting. Some of what happened was miscommunication on the floor because we are not used to having her out there in that role. Hopefully we can get a little more comfortable with that setup and be more consistent.”

For Stamford, Gretta Buckley led the way, scoring 13 kills, six aces and a team-high 23 digs. When it came to kills, no one was better than Daria Alentanska, who finished with a game-high 24. Brianna Arias added 17 kills and 11 blocks, while Kirsi Balazs took home 48 assists.

In the first set, Greenwich was trailing by double-digit points on a few occasions, but was able to cut into the lead and eventually take over the set, winning 26-24.

However, Greenwich was unable to get over the hump against the Black Knights, winning only the fourth set.

In the final frame, the Lady Cardinals trailed 7-0 and were able to cut the deficit to 11-8. But that was as close as Big Red would get.

“We know that we have the strength and power to beat them, but it was a little frustrating that we couldn’t get there,” Mark said. “We were talking about how we need to break out of this, but I have full confidence in us.”

With the victory, Stamford continued its stellar season, upping its record to 11-2 overall. Greenwich fell to 9-4 on the season.

“We need to learn how to play to the best of our abilities and play under pressure,” Johnson said. “It’s something that we haven’t been doing. We haven’t been focusing as well as we should, but I think that will change now.”

Since beating Trinity Catholic High School 3-0 back on Oct. 9, the Cardinals have been playing tough opponents but coming up just short.

Against both Trumbull High School and Fairfield Ludlowe, Greenwich had opportunities to put the game away but lost 3-2. Monday’s contest had the same feel.

“We seem to be getting close with everybody, but we are not finishing,” Lapham said. “In four of our five losses, we lost the same way. All those games could have gone either way, but we are choking down the stretch. We’ve got to put the ball away and we’ve been our own worst enemies. We are serving it out and we are hitting it out.”

The Cardinals know that they need to break out of the streak sooner rather than later. Yesterday, the Cards hosted Ridgefield High School; however, results were unavailable at press time.

From there, Big Red has only four more games to play in the regular season, starting with a road trip to St. Joseph High School tomorrow at 5:30 p.m.

“Our serve has been a big part of our success,” Lapham said. “Ebba has been bombing and so has Liza. Jenny has been scoring well with her serve. We just need to be more consistent.”

Despite the rough patch in the season, the Cardinals still have high expectations come tournament time.

“If we play our best, I would expect a championship,” Lapham said. “We are not quite executing to our best ability right now. We’ve been playing a lot better teams recently and the pressure has been on, but we need to respond to the pressure. If we can do that, I think we have a good shot to go far in the postseason.”

While Mark believes the team could reach any goal it sets, she also knows that there is always room for improvement.

“We are looking forward to a lot of tough competition,” Mark said. “Our passing has gotten a lot better and so has our serve-receive, but we just need to serve tougher and not get as many errors. We had a lot today. We also would like to have more net play rather than counting on digging up all the balls instead.”

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