Thursday’s high school girls volleyball match between host Greenwich High School and J.M. Wright Technical School wasn’t as crowded, or loud as most matches, but it certainly didn’t dampen the participants’ spirits. In fact spirits were high for both teams and for very good reason.
Nearly seven months after the CIAC canceled its winter tournaments on March 9 due to the coronavirus pandemic, thousands of student-athletes across the state returned to competition Thursday. High school sports were finally back.
They looked different. Many were played in front of no spectators. Post-game handshakes, high-fives and team huddles were also sometimes absent. Some players wore masks. Sidelines were spread out.
Starts were staggered for cross country and some swimming meets were held virtually, with teams competing head-to-head from different venues.
But this long journey, which started with conditioning in cohorts of 10 on July 6, reached a destination many feared could not be navigated: actual interscholastic competition. The road back was not easy, nor will be the road ahead. Athletes endured a week of stoppage in August, while the CIAC reviewed Department of Health recommendations, before advancing to non-skill development training Aug. 29, full practices Sept. 21 and varsity events on Thursday.
So Thursday’s FCIAC West Region matchup between Greenwich and Wright Tech was indeed, a longtime coming.
“It was a good feeling to be out there today,” Greenwich senior tri-captain Lilly Saleeby said. “I was definitely anxious and excited for this the whole day. It feels like we haven’t been on the court forever, so we had some fun and it was good to be back.”
Saleeby, an outside hitter, helped spark the Cardinals to a 3-0 (25-9, 25-6, 25-6) win over Wright Tech., posting six aces and two kills.
Numerous protocols and guidelines have been put in place in order for indoor volleyball matches to take place. Players must wear masks at all times and there is a no contact rule — athletes are prohibited from high-fiving, or shaking hands with each other during celebrations between points.
“At times I had the urge to give my teammates high fives in the huddle and that’s something that challenged me throughout the match and I’m sure a lot of other girls felt the same way, because physical contact is a huge part of volleyball,” Saleeby said. “It’s one of the changes I’ll have to get used to.”
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Line judges are also not being used in volleyball this season — just two judges will officiate each match. The crowd in Thursday’s match included the junior varsity and freshman teams from the schools and a limited number of parents.
“It’s super exciting and everybody is grateful that we get the opportunity to play, because our season was something that was up in the air for a long time,” said Greenwich senior tri-captain Cornelia Roach, who registered five kills. “No one one knew if we were going to have a complete season, so each time on the court, we are playing with the feeling it could be (our) first and last game.”
Competing while wearing a mask is an adjustment the athletes are playing through.
“The Most notable change is playing with a mask on and the physical contact rule,” Roach said. “It was also tough not having line judges our there. It felt different, but we’re all adjusting.”
Said Wright Tech. coach Joe Sirico, who credited Alexa Charleus and Makaylah Williams for pacing his squad’s effort: “The masks are difficult, but this is a whole new ballgame. At least we get to play, so that’s the least we can do. We all have to adapt to that.”
This is Wright Tech’s first season playing FCIAC foes.
“It’s going to be competitive a little more than what we’re used to, but I think it’s going to be a great improvement for our team,” Sirico said.
Senior tri-captain/libero Chelsea Cleary (8 aces), senior outside hitter Alina Fingold (3 kills), junior outside hitter Adele Sotgiu (6 aces) and Addie Leder (senior setter, 12assists) also led Greenwich.
“We are really excited for the season,” Cleary said. “Most of the team has been playing with each other for a long time and we have so many amazing players, so our practices are super competitive.”
As for the new-look season, due to the guidelines?
“With the new protocols, we can’t touch each other, so those little thing are some adjustments we have to make,” Cleary said. “We have to be able to be there for each other without tapping each other.”
Greenwich and Wright Tech will meet again on Tuesday in Stamford.
“The girls couldn’t wait to play, it’s been a long time,” said Greenwich coach Steve Lapham, whose squad finished with a 19-3 record in 2019. “There was a limited crowd and it was quieter in here than I could ever remember, so it felt a little bit different.”
Roach said Greenwich’s motto this season is humble and hungry.
“We have been working a lot on wanting the ball and wanting to play every chance that we get,” she said. “It’s really focusing on getting after it in practice and games. And the humble aspect is having good sportsmanship, being good teammates and friends to each other.”