Since the 2020 season only consisted of scrimmages due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tuesday’s volleyball match between Greenwich Academy and Greens Farms Academy in the quarterfinal-round of the FAA Tournament, marked the first postseason matchup for the two teams since 2019 and both squads received a reminder of the intensity and pressure that comes with competing in the playoffs.
Third-seeded Greenwich Academy, which entered the match winners of 10 of their last 11 matchups, received a quick wake-up call, as it found itself playing from behind, after losing the first set against the Dragons.
Making several quick adjustments and changing their mindset a bit, GA turned the match in its favor in the second set and turned away Greens Farms.
Using its strong hitting and consistent offensive play to overcome Greens Farms’ effective defensive effort, third-seeded Greenwich Academy posted a 3-1 win over the sixth-seeded Dragons in the FAA quarterfinals. The Gators, who sport a record of 7-2 in the FAA, advanced to the tournament’s semifinals, where they will visit second-seeded King on Thursday at 5 p.m.
Greens Farms (3-6 FAA record) came back to win the first set, then GA won the next three, 25-20, 25-19, 25-17.
“It feels really good, we worked really hard to get here and ever since the normal season after Kent on Saturday, we’ve been excited to start this postseason,” Greenwich Academy senior tri-captain/outside hitter Evie Kay Girard said. “It’s been a while for GA (competing in the playoffs), especially with COVID and everything, so our goal was to come at all force into this game to prepare us for what we are happily about to play in Thursday against King.”
The Gators registered a 3-0 sweep of Greens Farms in a regular season match on Oct. 25, but the visitors erased sizeable deficits to take the first set and seize a 1-0 lead in the match.
“They gave us a really tough time,” Evie Kay Girard said. “They’ve gotten so much better from the last time we played them. They blew us away in the first set, they definitely surprised us. Their defense was phenomenal, it was great. We were only able to overcome it by playing smart. Overall, they did a great job.”
Greenwich Academy coach Christy Girard was especially impressed with GFA’s defensive performance.
“Greens Farms had phenomenal defense,” Christy Girard said. “They were digging up balls like crazy. We had some hard driven balls and they were bringing them back. We tried some different rotations. We didn’t play as clean as we normally do, but Greens Farms had fantastic defense. I’m proud that we never got down on ourselves and that we kept going and kept going.”
Trailing 1-0 in the match, GA was down to Greens Farms, 19-15, in the second game, but went on a pivotal 8-0 run to claim a 23-20 edge. Senior Alexandra Trofort began the Gators’ rally with a kill, then sophomore outside hitter Casey Brower posted a kill, closing the Dragons’ lead to 19-17. Evie Kay Girard registered seven consecutive service points, helping the Gators gain a 23-19 advantage.
She added an ace during the spurt, while Brower’s kill gave the home team the lead for good at 20-19. Later in the set, a kill and an ace by Trofort gave GA a 25-20 second set victory.
“They (GFA) definitely have improved throughout the season, so it was nice to have some good competition throughout this match,” said Trofort, a tri-captain/middle hitter/blocker. “We started out with kind of low energy and our focus for the next few sets that we played was to use our energy to our to advantage and play really clean volleyball.”
The third game saw GA jump out to leads of 13-6 and 17-11, as their offense flowed well. Trofort, Girard and Brower recorded timely kills every time Greens Farms threatened to cut into GA’s lead.
“I feel like in the first game we hadn’t figured out what they were doing, but in the second game we played really smart,” said GA tri-captain Miranda Calver, who also helped pace the victors. “We knew how to get around it and we also brought our energy up, which was great. At the end, we got ourselves really excited for the game.”
The Dragons were sparked throughout by the hitting of Lily Lind and Devin McCormack.
“Our team played well the whole match,” GFA coach Paul Groves said. “We had a plan against them. We were rotating a blocker in there to take away some of their hitting, they’re a powerful hitting team. So I think it came down to fewer errors than we played them the first time. This time we were consistent and aggressive and maybe caught them off guard based on our last performance.”
“The trick was to take away some of their hitting and add a lot of hitting from our end,” Groves continued. “Our two hitters went off today, so that was great. For us to beat them we had to be perfect and have a little bit of luck.”
In the fourth game, GA led most of the way and proceeded to seal their quarterfinal-round triumph. Sophomore Maddie Mendicina, sophomore Hailey Presser and freshman Natalie Bunnell also added solid serving to the Gators.
“We did a really great job of keeping the energy up,” Brower said. “We’re a really small team, so it was really important for us to be mentally bigger and louder than them. It was really exciting, we lost the first set and came back and took the last three – it was really fun.”
Indeed, GA also showcased some strong defensive play.
“We had some fantastic digs and some fantastic save dives,” Christy Girard said. “We are undersized. This is the smallest team I’ve ever had and they were tall, they had some height and so we came out with our speed.”
Said Brower: “We really work on being scrappy, especially in practice, coach is like ‘don’t let any balls touch the ground.’ So I think just stay on our toes, always moving forward if it’s going in front of you, taking big steps – making sure every point matters.”
Greenwich Academy led 14-7 in the first set, then was ahead 16-12, but Greens Farms won eight straight points to open a 20-16 advantage. GA, of course, had extra motivation after dropping the opening set.
“We were focused on our own errors,” Evie Kay Girard said. “We felt that we were giving them the ball too much and that we were making too many unforced errors. So we wanted to run a different offense, which we did.”
The Gators were defeated by King, 3-1, on Oct. 1. Since then, GA has won 11 of its last 12 matches and has a sparkling record of 13-3.
“I really think we have grown so much this season and our team is definitely more together,” Calver said.
“We had a pretty tough time with them last time, so we are hoping to put up a good fight and do the best that we can,” Trofort added.