Best in the West: Greenwich volleyball edges Darien in five-set final
GREENWICH — When the final point hit the floor in the Greenwich gym to end the 2020 volleyball season, the host Cardinals had secured a wild 3-2 win over Darien, a perfect record and an FCIAC West Region title.
For the players, however, simply having the opportunity to play may have outweighed the championship hardware.
“I think this season is more memorable than most,” Greenwich senior co-captain Chelsea Cleary said. “Definitely, having the extra challenge of COVID and the protocols we had to follow made it memorable. We did a really good job and I’ll definitely remember this for the rest of my life.”
“The opportunity to play, especially during my senior year in a year like this — I’m so grateful,” senior co-captain Lilly Saleeby said. “My freshman year, we made it all the way to the FCIAC and state finals. So we opened up on that, and now closing it off as seniors like this, the feeling is indescribable.”
The West final was truly a roller-coaster ride, replete with momentum swings, long points, big plays and crazy comebacks. Three of the first four sets went past the 25-point threshold, and even the fifth set featured a couple of lead changes.
The final scoring line tells part of the story, as Greenwich won 27-25, 26-28, 25-21, 24-26, 15-12.
It was the third time this season that the Cardinals (12-0) overcame the Blue Wave (8-4) — the first meeting was also a five-setter — and while Greenwich lost just six sets this fall, five of those were against Darien.
“I’m really proud of the team,” Darien junior co-captain Aerin Bowman said. “That was the best we played all season. We really came together and we played with one heart. We kept fighting, we never gave up and I’m really proud of that.”
“I was very honored to have the opportunity to coach this group of kids,” Darien coach Laurie LaRusso said. “They’re amazing kids; we had a lot of injuries at the beginning of the season, throughout the season and at the end of the season. But they played their hearts out every time they hit the floor and we had great captains leadership this year.”
Saleeby led the Greenwich attack with 15 kills and 24 digs, and Cornelia Roach and Liana Sarkissian added nine kills apiece. Setter Addie Leder had 43 assists and 19 digs, and Cleary had 19 digs.
For Darien, Bowman had 14 kills and 10 digs, Lani Gillespie had 12 kills, Rachel Herget had 22 assists and 13 digs, and Aubrey Moore had 13 assists and 13 digs.
The Wave played the end of the match without Herget, a senior co-captain who went down with an injury late in the fifth set.
The first frame went Greenwich’s way after the Cardinals overcame a pair of Darien set points. Adele Sotgiu ended it when her deep shot curled into the back corner to make it 27-25.
The Cardinals then scored the first six points of the second set and pushed the lead to 11-1 in a dominant early performance.
Darien closed the gap to 13-8, but Greenwich maintained the advantage throughout much of the set, and even had a 24-17 lead.
But the Blue Wave rallied to win the next seven points and eventually took the set, 28-26, tying the score.
“Coach let us turn to ourselves and our teammates,” Bowman said of the comeback. “We had to find it within ourselves to come together. Our serving was strong on that set and we played together.”
The Cardinals pulled away late in the third set to win by four and regain the match lead at 2-1, but Darien again responded and took the fourth frame to tie it at 2-2.
After Darien went in front 10-9 in the fifth set, Saleeby started a five-point run with a kill. On their second set point, Leder got her hand on a jump ball at the net and the final point fell in for the Cards.
“Throughout the match, we struggled with those middle points,” Saleeby said. “In the second set, we were up 11-1 and they ended up taking that set from us. We did a great job with the beginning and ending of sets, but those middle points we struggled with. We deal with pressure well, and that showed in the last five points of that set.”
Players on both teams pointed to the simple fact that they were on the court as something to be grateful for in the year of COVID.
“The season wasn’t guaranteed so we’re so happy that we got to play our game for the championship,” Cleary said. “I’m really proud of the way we played and the way we handled all the protocols with COVID. We just played every game like it could be our last, because it really could be.”
“We’re all so grateful to have played this season and, especially because we have a young team,” Bowman said. “I’m proud of how we all came together and played like we’ve been playing together for ten years.”
“On both sides of the net, everyone played a solid game of volleyball. It was super competitive and Darien definitely kept us on our toes. It was so exciting and it was a great end to the season.” — Greenwich senior co-captain Chelsea Cleary
FCIAC WEST FINAL
GREENWICH 3, DARIEN 0
DARIEN 25 28 21 26 12 - 0
GREENWICH 27 26 25 24 15 - 3
Darien: Rachel Herget 22 assists, 2 aces, 12 points, 13 digs, 1 block; Jillian Roche 10 kills, 2 aces, 7 points, 13 digs; Aerin Bowman 14 kills,1 ace, 3 points, 10 digs, 3 blocks; Lani Gillespie 12 kills, 1 ace, 12 points, 5 digs, 3 blocks; Ellie Moore 4 kills, 2 aces, 7 points, 12 digs; Aubrey Moore 13 Assists, 3 aces, 14 points, 13 digs; Ayla Schenck 6 digs.
Greenwich: Lilly Saleeby 15 kills, 24 digs; Chelsea Cleary 19 service points, 22 digs; Cornelia Roach 9 kills, 4 blocks; Liana Sarkissian 9 kills, 3 blocks, Addie Leder 43 assists, 19 digs; Thalia Doundoulakis 10 service points; Gia-Rose Greschner 10 digs.
Records: Darien 8-4, Greenwich 12-0.