Lilly Saleeby’s freshman season on the Greenwich High School volleyball team saw the Cardinals win the CIAC Class LL championship and the FCIAC title.
The Cardinals were successful once again last season, qualifying for the FCIAC Tournament, before being eliminated in the Class LL quarterfinals. Possessing a lot of depth, the current Cardinals could find themselves back in championship matches this fall.
“My freshman year, we won the state and FCIAC championship and we feel that goal is very reachable,” said Saleeby, a junior co-captain.
Added GHS coach Steve Lapham: “The big key to our success is if we can pass the serve, because we have players who can hit. If we stay in each game with our serve and receive, we’ll be very competitive and go far.”
Ciara Munnelly, the lone senior on the squad, sees a lot of potential in this season’s Cardinals, who have been one of the most successful teams in the FCIAC and state under Lapham’s watch.
“I’m really excited for this season,” said Munnelly, a co-captain. “We have a lot of powerful hitters and defensive specialists and as a team, we are really connected. We have some powerful middles and a lot of tall blockers on our team.”
Greenwich, which graduated seven seniors from its impressive 2018 team, improved its performance as last season progressed — a scenario they hope to experience this fall.
“We were playing pretty competitive at the beginning of last season, but then we found our zone,” GHS varsity assistant coach Shawn Hoyt said. “Our team really started focusing on our principles — hitting, serving and passing more effectively.”
The Cards begin their new season with a home matchup against FCIAC rival Westhill on Sept. 12.
AT THE HELM: Lapham is entering his 27th season as Greenwich’s coach. The Cardinals last titles came just two seasons ago, when he coached the squad to the FCIAC and Class LL championships. In 2018, the Cards posted a record of 15-7. They lost to Darien in the FCIAC quarterfinals and were beaten by Westhill in the quarterfinal-round of the Class LL tourney. The Cardinals advanced to the state quarterfinals by beating East Hartford and Fairfield Ludlowe in the first two rounds.
For his career, Lapham has compiled a record of 405-158.
Hoyt is a varsity assistant coach, Bill Brehm is coaching the junior varsity team and Nick Fesko is serving as the freshman coach.
WHO’S GONE?: Greenwich graduated a group of standout players in Amelia Bartlett, Gianna Alfano, Erin O’Keefe, Carolina Lew, Jackie Feehan, Julia Feehan and Ella Morrissey. Lew served as the Cardinals’ captain.
WHO’S BACK?: An All-FCIAC, All-State team selection last fall, Saleeby brings great skill and experience at the outside hitter position.
“Lilly is our strongest hitter,” Lapham said. “She plays all year, she’s dedicated to the sport and we are looking for her to lead the team out there. She’s going to be a great leader for us.”
Munnelly brings versatility to the court.
“We can put her in the middle, we can go right side with her, or we can go outside,” Lapham said of Munnelly.
Sophomore Adele Sotgiu emerged as a starter as a freshman a year ago, excelling as an outside hitter. Her passing skills stood out throughout the season. Heather Zitzmann, a sophomore, could fill the role as the team’s top setter and junior Alina Fingold is a solid passer, who may be see action as a defensive specialist.
Junior Carolina Mrdelja returns as a middle hitter, while Gia Greschner (junior) will play libero. Also back is junior Thalia Doundoulakis.
NEWCOMERS: Chelsea Cleary (junior, libero), junior Addie Leder (setter), Cornelia Roach (junior, middle hitter), Liana Sarkissian (junior, outside hitter) and Celeste Walstrom-Vangor (right side hitter, junior) each join the squad.
STRENGTHS: “I think we have a versatile team with good blockers and hitters who can play all the way around,” Saleeby said. “If the lineup isn’t working, we have the flexibility of moving people around, because we have so many different hitters available.”
Added Hoyt: “Our players are super competitive. They are constantly competing every time they step on the court and that competitive nature really brings out the best in them. That culture is contagious within the varsity, junior varsity and freshman teams.”
Saleeby should help power the Cardinals’ offense.
CAPTAIN’S COMMENTS: “Being a captain is so much fun,” Munnelly said. “Coach Lapham has taught me what leadership is all about and I’ve learned from my past captains.”
Said Saleeby: “Because we have a whole team of captains, it’s making our job very easy for us.”
DID YOU KNOW?: Brehm, the JV coach, who used to coach the school’s varsity boys basketball team, coached the junior varsity team from 1994-1997. … Munnelly will also serve as one of the captains of the Cardinals’ girls basketball team in the winter. … Greenwich will compete in a tournament at RHAM, which will include some of the premier teams in the Connecticut and Rhode Island.