Even after the Gryphons’ season had come to an official end November 11 at Greenwich Academy, fans of the scrappy volleyball team continued to chant “Ho-ly Chi-ld!” at the top of their lungs. It was a testament to a band of sisters who, even in losing the Fairchester Athletic Association tournament final, displayed tremendous heart, as they had done all season long.
Make no bones about it, Holy Child’s 3-2 (23-25, 18-25, 25-20, 25-19, 15-11) loss to Convent of the Sacred Heart was a heartbreaker. The Gryphons came back in both the first and second games to take a 2-0 lead. In game one, they rallied from an early 9-2 deficit to tie it at 15-15. Momentum swung in their favor when Danielle Riverso made a spectacular dig, setting up Stephanie Taylor for the spike and a 17-15 lead. With Holy Child up 24-23, Elizabeth Murphy served a blistering ace for the game-winner. The senior credited the supporters on hand, who filled the tiny gym and created a deafening atmosphere.
“It was great having so many fans – I’ve never seen anything like it at our games before,” she said. “It made us all want to work that much harder and prove to everyone just how good we can be. It was the best feeling to go up for a game-point serve, shaking with nerves, and hear my classmates cheering me on. Without that positive reinforcement it’s easy to let things like nerves and a couple of bad plays get you down.”
The Gryphons faced a similar situation in game two, as they fell behind 10-2 early on. They battled back again, however, and – on the strength of senior captain Gianna LaSalla’s service game – transformed a 13-10 deficit into a 17-13 lead.
“Our team definitely adds drama to the game,” said Mary Ferrara, a senior captain and the team’s libero. “We play each point out as if it’s our last. We knew we were up two games to none, but we made sure that we did not get overly confident. Unfortunately, it did not end in our favor, but there was not one moment in the game where we gave up hope.”
Holy Child again fell into an early hole in game three, going down 6-0 and 9-2. Not surprisingly, the Gryphons staged a comeback, coming within one point on three separate occasions. This time, though, they could never even the score. Sacred Heart went up 12-1 in the fourth game, and fought off a late Holy Child surge (they came within 22-19) to force a deciding game five. With the score knotted at 7-7, Sacred Heart went on a 8-4 run to finish the game and with the championship.
Despite the loss, it was nothing but a wildly successful season for the Gryphons. They finished 12-10, won the FAA regular season championship for the first time since 2007, and made their first-ever appearance in the NYSAIS tournament. The last time they advanced to the FAA tournament final was 1998, when they finished 13-9, still a Holy Child best.
“Patricia Vernon helped us so much,” said Taylor of the first-year head coach. “We all became more consistent players through practicing our positions each day. Without her drive to win and make us unstoppable, I don’t think we would have developed into such a strong team.”
While Vernon, a former Division 1 player, deserves credit for transforming the program, she could not have done it without her talented cast of eight seniors – Ferrara, Taylor, LaSalla, Murphy, Noelle Grieco, Erica Cuscina, Sara Sadjady, and Lynda Violante.
“We’ve been on a long ride together, and I don’t think any of us would have imagined back in preseason that we would make it all the way to FAA championships,” said Ferrara. “Just as every point in a game matters, every senior mattered this season and it showed.”
Don’t expect the Gryphons to fall back to the middle of the pack in 2011. With returning stars like Riverso, who sprained her ankle early in the title game, but battled on, and sophomore Chellzea Edgar, Holy Child should be right near the top of the FAA once again.