Fall sports

Greenwich High volleyball team tops Darien to advance to Class LL state final

Adele Sotgiu shares her thoughts on Greenwich’s state semifinal-round victory against Darien. Click the arrow to watch the video.

Greenwich High School’s girls volleyball team has reached its final destination.

The Cardinals reached the CIAC Class LL Tournament final by defeating a familiar foe for the third time this season – longtime rival and fellow FCIAC power Darien.

Senior outside hitter Adele Sotgiu recorded 17 kills and 15 service points, while senior middle blocker/hitter Liana Sarkissian registered 13 kills, 19 service points and four aces to propel second-seeded Greenwich past third-seeded Darien, 3-1, and into the CIAC Class LL Tournament final.

The win, which took place before a bipartisan crown at Stamford High School, was Greenwich’s eighth straight and raised its record to an eye-opening 25-1, heading into Saturday’s 7 p.m. Class LL Tournament championship match against No. 12 Fairfield Ludlowe. The Falcons soared into the final by eliminating top-seeded Cheshire, 3-1, in Wednesday’s other semifinal-round showdown. The Cardinals and Falcons will play for the Class LL title at East Haven High School.

“Making it to the finals feels amazing,” said Sotgiu, a senior outside hitter/captain. “We’ve worked so hard this season. Playing Darien three times in one season is not easy. They’ve been one of the best teams in FCIACs and states for a while, so I’m just really happy and excited to get to the finals.”

Greenwich gathers after winning a point against Darien in the Class LL semifinals at Stamford High School.

Junior outside hitter Maggie Saleeby and senior captain Sophie Jones had five kills apiece, while junior setter Lucia Spanjol tallied 13 service points, including three aces for the victors. Spanjol kept the Cards’ offense moving with 45 assists.

The Cardinals last played for the state title in 2017, a season in which they beat Amity for the Class LL championship. Greenwich recently defeated Darien for the 2021 FCIAC championship, 3-1.

“I said it before and I’ll say it again, going into it, we didn’t know what to expect and the fact that we’ve gone this far with our record and the fact that we beat Darien three times in one season – we beat Trumbull three times in one season – it’s incredible and I’m really proud of what we accomplished,” said Sarkissian, one of the Cardinals’ captains. Whatever happens, I just want to say that I’m really proud of this team and this program for coming so far.”

Dictating the action the majority of the first two games, Greenwich won the match, 25-12, 25-20, 24-26, 25-22.

“I’m really impressed with their courage and hanging in there in pressure situations,” said Greenwich coach Steve Lapham, who guided the Cardinals to the Class LL state title in 2010 and 2017. “We’ve had a target on our backs all year being No. 1.”

It’s high five time at the net for Greenwich, after winning a point against Darien in the Class LL semifinals.

Darien (22-3) was led by sophomore Aubrey Moore’s 15 kills, 11 digs and 18 assists. Junior Jillian Roche posted 11 digs and five kills and junior Leilani Gillespie notched 11 kills, 13 digs and five blocks for the Blue Wave, who trailed 2-0, before winning the third set.

“We all collectively wanted it as a team and coming back that fourth set was exhilarating,” Roche said. “We were down, but we believed in ourselves. In the fourth set we played were close, but Greenwich played really well.”

The fourth set featured a number of lead changes, with the Cardinals earning the final edge at 23-22, on an ace by Sotgiu. Greenwich won the next point, then sealed the match and a berth in the state championship match with a block by Jones, who rose up high at the net, along with junior Kassidy Bonney.

“We really stepped it up at the end and we were giving good passes to our setter, who was giving great sets that we can swing on,” Jones said. “I’m incredibly proud of our team. We came into this season not expecting too much, because it was such a new team. But everyone was working hard in practice and that really showed on the court.”

Greenwich’s Liana Sarkissian after the team’s semifinal win vs. Darien. Click the arrow to watch the video.

The Cardinals certainly knew what to expect from a formidable Darien squad.

“It’s always back-and-forth with Darien, they’re definitely the toughest team we’ve ever played before,” Saleeby said. “We don’t like going to five sets ever, so we like to get those last five points as quickly as possible.”

As has been the case all season, the Cards displayed poise in pressure-packed situations.

“We really have a bond off the court, we read each other so well, we handle our emotions and we have a really great connection on and off the court,” Saleeby said.

With Sarkissian serving and the score tied at 9-9 in the first game, the Cardinals seized control, winning nine straight points to open an 18-9 advantage.

A Sarkissian ace put GHS on top 12-9, then three consecutive kills by Sotgiu extended the Cards’ lead to 15-9. Another Sarkissian ace and a point by Spanjol gave Greenwich an 18-9 cushion. Strong serving by Sotgiu closed out the opening set.

“It was just executing our plays,” Sotgiu said of the team’s fast start. “We worked a lot on free ball transitions during practice and I think that had a lot to do with us executing.”

Indeed, playing from ahead has been one of Greenwich’s trademarks all season.

“Darien, they’re a strong team and a lot of times with these tough teams if you come out strong, they kind of get shaken up and that’s what we’ve been doing with these tough teams,” Sarkissian said. “We come out hard and they take two sets to adjust to us. They did an amazing job and I’m really happy that we got to play them again.”

Greenwich’s Kassidy Bonney goes up for a block at the net against Darien in the Class LL semifinals.

Darien’s best moments came during the third set, as Aubrey Moore, Roche and Gillespie rallied their team back from a four-point deficit.

“I’m always proud of my team because all I can think of is that we’re a bunch of fighters and I know that we’ll fight to the end and we’ll never give up and that’s what I love about my team,” Darien senior libero Julianna Han said. “We worked so hard every day in and out of the gym.”

Greenwich and Darien in action in the Class LL Tournament semifinals.

In Saturday’s Class LL final, Greenwich will face a Ludlowe team they edged, 3-2, on Sept. 30.

“I’m so excited, this is the first time in my career here that we’ve gotten to the state finals, so I’m excited to be in the state finals first of all and hopefully to come out winning,” Sotgiu said.

“We are pumped and psyched and we’ll see what happens Saturday,” Lapham added. I’m super proud of the girls, they’ve been great all year. They stay even keel, which is so impressive.”

The Greenwich volleyball team gets ready to play Darien in the CIAC Class LL final.

“It’s very exciting, especially since last year we didn’t get the full season,” Jones said. “We want to end the season by winning the title.”

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