Fall sports

Greenwich High School volleyball team primed to contend for FCIAC, state titles

Photo by David Fierro: From left to right, Sophie Jones, Liana Sarkissian and Adele Sotgiu are senior captains of the Greenwich High School volleyball team. The Cardinals opened their season with a 3-0 win over Masuk.

A 3-0 season-opening win against Masuk marked the first, of what should be, numerous victories this season for the Greenwich High volleyball team, which has the talent and skill set to contend for the FCIAC and state titles.

“This team could do some special things, we just need some positions to step up and get comfortable,” said Greenwich coach Steve Lapham, who is in his 29th season at the helm. “Last season, we went 12-0 and we won the West Region and we beat Darien three times and no one does that.”

Indeed, the abbreviated, modified 2020 season (due to COVID-19 restrictions) was one of perfection for the Cardinals, whose roster included eight seniors. The team has half as many seniors this year, three of whom are captains Adele Sotgiu, Liana Sarkissian and Sophie Jones.

“The seniors last year left a good team behind to carry on a good legacy,” said Sarkissian, a starter on the squad since her sophomore season. “We are not a senior heavy class so I’m excited to play with new people. Last year we had a lot of really good players and we had older players who challenged you, which was beneficial for the team. This team is also challenging each other every day, so we’ll be able to grow and play better.”

Photo by David Fierro: Greenwich volleyball captain Adele Sotgiu, front, waits to return a serve during practice.

Sarkissian, who is 6-foot-4, has committed to Dayton University, where she will play volleyball.

“Liana blocks well, she swings well,” said Lapham, who guided Greenwich to the FCIAC championship in 2013 and 2017 and the Class LL state title in 2019 and 2017. “She is very supportive, always positive and does a good job of picking everyone up.”

An outside hitter, Sotgiu has been a mainstay on the Cards since her freshman season. She was pleased with how the team performed in the season-opening match at Masuk.

“I’m really excited, we had our first game this season and we played really well I’m really hopeful for the season,” said Sotgiu, an All-FCIAC Second Team selection in 2019. “We served really well and kept the other team on their toes. They couldn’t return so well, so we got a lot of free balls.”

Sotgiu will be relied upon to keep the Cardinals’ offense moving.

“Everything starts around her,” Lapham said of Sotgiu. “She’s our leading passer. Adele leads by example, she dives for every ball.”

During her four seasons on the Cardinals team, Sotgiu has experienced a wealth of winning moments, while enjoying her role.

“The team has changed a lot throughout the years,” Sotgiu said. “I have built amazing friendships with a lot of people on the team – different ages that I wouldn’t have made. This year, I don’t feel like I’m a senior, I can’t believe it, but I’m happy I’m a captain.”

Photo by David Fierro: Captains Liana Sarkissian, front and Adele Sotgiu do a volleyball drill together during practice.

Jones helps anchor the Cardinals as a right-side hitter (opposite hitter). She too, saw many positives signs in Greenwich’s season-opener. Greenwich will look to go 2-0 when it hosts St. Joseph today.

“We played against a team that has some strong hitters, we started getting our team dynamic going,” Jones said. “I like being in a leadership role. It’s nice to lead the team, which has a good dynamic. Being a part of this team has been a great experience, everyone is very supportive and I have definitely gotten better since my freshman year.”

Junior Maggie Saleeby should be a force from the outside hitter position. She’s the younger sister of Lilly Saleeby, who was one of the premier players in the program’s history. Lilly is playing on the volleyball team at Colgate, while Cornelia Roach, who like Lilly was a senior 2020 captain, is competing at Boston College. Chelsea Cleary, a captain, was also among some of the eight seniors who graduated from last season’s undefeated team.

“We had a great start to the season and I hope that’s what the rest of the season looks like for us,” Saleeby said of the team’s first matchup against Masuk. “Our team is building a really great dynamic.”

Maggie Saleeby, left and Sophie Jones do a bumping drill during Greenwich’s recent practice.

Indeed, once the Cardinals get going offensively, they should be tough to contend with in each game.

“We can definitely get really good transition in passing,” Saleeby said. “If we can get the ball to Liana she can get a kill.”

Lucia Spanjol, a junior, is one of the Cards’ setters, while sophomores Hayley Dionnis and Kassidy Bonney will see significant action at libero and middle blocker, respectively. Katherine Ford (outside hitter), Izzy Erceg (outside hitter), Jennifer Andaya (middle blocker) and Lana Korsun (setter) are juniors, Maddie Kruper (right-side hitter) is a senior and Skylar Wilson (libero) and Grace Darnow (setter) are sophomores.

“A big part of our success is our non-starters,” Lapham said. “They are going to have to push us and step their game up to make us all better.”

Said Sarkissian: “A big goal for us is to get better with our communication and I want us to play our best every single game. I want us to be consistent throughout the whole season.”

Unlike last season, when it played just the teams in their FCIAC West Region, this fall season will see the Cardinals play their traditional schedule. Besides Darien, they’ll face Trumbull, St. Joseph, Fairfield Ludlowe and all their other rivals.

“I’m really excited for that, because last year was a shorter season, so the more teams we play, the better we’ll get,” Jones said.

“The FCIAC is really competitive and I’m glad we have these teams in the area to play, so that we can build toward the season,” Sotgiu added.

Greenwich plays host to St. Joseph today at 5:30, then visits Trumbull Wednesday for a 4 p.m. matchup.

“The FCIAC is as tough as nails,” Lapham said. “We’ll be tested. Our expectations are to try to make FCIAC finals and state finals.”

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