In the fall of 2017, Lilly Saleeby first stepped onto the volleyball court as a freshman on the Greenwich varsity team.
One year later, she was joined by Cornelia Roach, a sophomore and relative newcomer to the sport, who quickly fell in love with volleyball and has said “it’s something that I really never want to stop.”
The Cardinals have been reaping the rewards ever since.
In a few weeks, both Saleeby and Roach will play their final matches for the Cardinals, but their volleyball stories will continue as they head to the Division I college ranks. Saleeby, an outside hitter, will play at Colgate University, while Roach, a middle hitter, will join Boston College.
Playing alongside each other and their teammates on a deep and talented Greenwich roster has been a memorable experience for the two senior captains.
“We’ve all been playing a lot together for so long,” Saleeby said. “I’ve been with most of these girls since my freshman year and we’re really close outside of volleyball as well. Just spending so much time together, really getting to know the person rather than just the teammate, being a friend too, has been super important for us.”
“It’s awesome,” Roach said. “Lilly and I have been playing together for a while. Since I’ve started playing, I’ve been with her, and I’m so proud of her. It’s an amazing feeling.”
With Saleeby, Roach and several other standout players in the ranks, the Cardinals have been among the FCIAC’s top contenders for several years running.
Since 2018, Greenwich has compiled a record of 43-10, which includes a 28-3 mark since the start of last season.
This year, the Cards are a perfect 9-0 and have looked, at times, to be unstoppable, winning 27 of 29 sets – the only two defeats coming in a thrilling five-set win over Darien on Thursday.
Roach said the camaraderie and familiarity between the players has been a key factor in Greenwich’s success.
“Having a bunch of girls who have played together for so long is awesome,” Roach said. “In practice, we’re playing a lot of 6s, we’re doing a lot of drills that put us under a lot of pressure, and it’s great. We all benefit from it so much.”
At Colgate, Saleeby will join a program which is coming off a fantastic 2019 season in which it was 24-8 overall and 15-1 in the Patriot League. The Raiders finished as the runner-up in the conference tournament, and reached the National Invitational Volleyball Championship tournament quarterfinals.
Saleeby described her connection to the school and its volleyball program under 15-year head coach Ryan Barker as “instant.”
“I visited back in January and then the process moved quickly,” Saleeby said. “I had instant chemistry with the coaches; we had a long conversation and talked about everything. I loved the girls there, too. I look up to them and the way they played, and I want to play with them.
“It’s a beautiful campus, great academics, great athletics and, my head coach Ryan Barker – I love the culture he’s created. It’s super competitive and I’m super excited to go there.”
Saleeby started her Greenwich career as a middle before moving to outside hitter. She’s been a captain for the past two seasons, and has racked up more than 715 kills, 125 aces, 420 digs, and 400 service points.
Saleeby has also put her name in the Greenwich record books several times, with school marks for kills, digs and serve receives in a season and a career, and kills in a game.
While Saleeby has been a hit from day one at GHS, Roach was a bit of a newbie when she joined the team as a sophomore. However, her natural talent soon shone through and that, couple with a growing love for the sport, propelled the middle hitter.
“I’m relatively new to the sport,” Roach said. “I started playing my sophomore year and I immediately fell in love with it. I have a lot of siblings so I have a really competitive side to me, too, and this sport brings out the positive, competitive side.”
Roach has collected more than 180 kills and is on the Greenwich record board with 74 blocks.
When she visited Boston College, Roach, like Saleeby at Colgate, felt an immediate positive vibe.
“The second I set foot on campus, I knew there was no other place that I wanted to be,” Roach said. “Chestnut Hill is so gorgeous and the atmosphere there is so welcoming and fun and competitive. I can’t wait.”
The Eagles had a fantastic season in 2019, tying a program record for victories with a 20-12 record for head coach Jason Kennedy, now in his third year. Boston College had an abbreviated 2020 season due to COVID-19, and went 0-8.
“The coaching staff and the girls on the team are amazing,” Saleeby said. “The volleyball program is incredible and I’m so honored to be able to be an up and coming member of that team.”
With Saleeby, Roach and fellow co-captain Chelsea Cleary, a libero, leading the way, the Cardinals were likely going to be among the top contenders for FCIAC and Class LL championships this season. The pandemic changed those plans, so Greenwich is limited to play in regional pod, the FCIAC West.
Luckily for the Cards, that division includes strong teams in Darien, Westhill, New Canaan and Stamford, all of which are league playoff contenders in normal years, so their matches have been true tests.
Both players are happy just to be on the court this year.
“Coming into practice, we don’t know if we’re going to have another day or another week of how much longer our season is going to progress,” Roach said. “So that’s changed the attitude and we’re all just very grateful and excited to be playing.”
“At one point, we didn’t know if we were going to get canceled or if we were going to play outdoor volleyball,” Saleeby said. “You can look at the situation from a million different perspectives and we could be down on the fact that we’re not playing all the different teams. But at the same time, we’re getting a season and any competition we get in times like these, we’re super grateful for and super blessed.”