Greenwich ended Darien’s journey toward winning a title twice during the 2021 girls high school volleyball season, eliminating the Blue Wave in the FCIAC and Class LL tournaments on its way to capturing both championships.
This season, it was Darien that ended Greenwich’s postseason run.
Top-seeded Darien continued its perfect season, registering an impressive 3-0 win over ninth-seeded Greenwich in the quarterfinal-round of the CIAC Class LL Tournament held on Monday in Darien.
The victory improved Darien’s record to 23-0, then it added its 24th straight win of the season by topping Southington, 3-0, on Wednesday in the Class LL semifinals, held at Bunnell High School.
In Monday’s quarterfinals, the Blue Wave beat Greenwich the Cardinals by game scores of 25-19, 25-20, 25-12.
“It feels awesome, we worked so hard for this,” said Darien senior opposite hitter Jillian Roche, who helped pace the Blue Wave’s offense. “Our main focus was coming in hot, which really worked. We got the lead, we held the lead and that proved in our 3-0 win. Our goal of coming in hot and staying hot really worked.”
Greenwich, which was the defending Class LL champion, defeated Darien in the 2021 FCIAC Tournament finals, then eliminated the Blue Wave in the Class LL Tournament semifinals. It’s Darien’s season this year thought, as it has held the upperhand in each of its 24 matches so far this season.
The Cardinals finished their 2022 season with a strong record of 19-6, with three of those losses coming to Darien. Besides defeating the Cardinals in Monday’s Class LL quarterfinals, the Blue Wave topped GHS in the FCIAC semifinals and also won the regular season matchup.
“It’s always hard to beat a team twice, let alone three times,” Greenwich coach Marianna Linnehan said. “But when you’re good and solid like that you deserve to win.”
This season marked Linnehan’s first at the helm at Greenwich.
“I really enjoyed it, they were welcoming it was a fun group of girls to coach and talented girls, which made it easier,” Linnehan said of her first season as coach of the Cards.
After dropping the first set against the Blue Wave in the Class LL quarterfinals, the Cardinals closed to within 18-15 in the second set with junior libero Hayley Dionis serving. Darien forced a side out, then increased its lead a little later on to 20-16.
Kills by sophomore middle blocker Marin Black, junior outside hitter Ellie Moore and senior outside hitter Jillian Roche, put the Blue Wave on top of the Cardinals, 24-20, in the second set. Sophomore Brooke Leon capped the second game with an ace, giving the hosts a 2-0 advantage.
“We started off strong, which brought us to our win,” Darien middle hitter Leilani Gillespie said. “We are going to keep pushing.”
In the third game, Darien carried the momentum throughout, jumping out to leads of 10-5 and 16-6, behind Roche, Gillespie and Black. For the match, Greenwich was paced by senior setter /captain Lucia Spanjol, who recorded 17 assists and senior outside hitter/captain Katherine Ford (eight kills, one dig). Spanjol, Ford and senior outside hitter Maggie Saleeby each experienced the team’s 2021 season in which it claimed the Class LL and FCIAC championships.
“It was really great, we had a great season and we had some really great games,” Ford said. “We got to connect together as a team. It’s sad to be done, but it was a good season.”
Said Spanjol: “It was really fun, I think we had really good friendships on the team and we really tried to continue what we had last year. I really liked leading this team.”
As for facing Darien, which has swept each of its opponents in the Class LL tourney – “They are really consistent and once they get on a run it’s hard to come back,” Spanjol said.
Now undefeated Darien, coached by Laurie LaRusso will go up against 14th-seeded Trumbull in Saturday’s Class LL final at East Haven High School at 10 a.m.
“It was our motivation we had coming into the year that has helped us have a successful season,” Gillespie said. “I don’t think our mindset was to be undefeated, it was just to play every game like it’s our last.”
Said Moore: “Every day in practice we come in with a working mentality and we focus on the little things. We have a bunch of girls who are skilled, but every day we work hard in practice. It’s super exciting to be moving on – it’s what we wanted to do at the beginning of the season and now it’s almost here.”
The Class LL quarterfinal marked the final game in the high school careers of Greenwich seniors Jennifer Andaya, Izzy Erceg, Ford, Lana Korsun, Saleeby and Spanjol.
“It was definitely a good one,” Saleeby said of her senior season. “It was different from last year, I had to take more of a leadership role, but it was a great one and I’m really proud of our team.”
“Greenwich volleyball means a lot to me, it’s taught me how to be a leader, how to grow and how to connect with others,” Saleeby continued.
Ford will fondly remember her volleyball days at GHS.
“It pretty much represents my life in high school,” she said. “Volleyball is everything to me in high school during the fall. It’s where my best friends are.”
Linnehan credited the team’s seniors for their contributions to the program.
“I thanked them all for a great season and being leaders on the court and being good role models for the younger girls coming up next year,” Linnehan said. “They all contributed a lot.”