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Volleyball Team Unstoppable at Senior Night, Heading Into Districts with Confidence

It was the Volleyball team’s senior night, and for the team’s six seniors, their last game at Greenhills. So when the Gryphons took the court against Rudolf Steiner, they weren’t holding back — and nothing was going to stop them. The game was over almost as soon as it began: powered by a serving run from senior Maddie Rodgers, the Gryphons jumped out to a 14-1 lead in the first set and never looked back. In the end, Greenhills came away with a straight-sets win, 25-7, 25-14, 25-14.

For the Gryphons, the game was several things at once. It was one last chance for players and fans to salute the team’s seniors on their home court. It was a final tune-up before the team’s District Championship tournament begins Monday at Whitmore Lake. And it was one more chance for coaches, parents, and fans to watch the team in action, and to appreciate the culmination of the years of practice that have brought the Gryphons to within striking distance of a District Championship.

“It was a great senior night,” said Head Coach Tiffany Willard. “We’ve been really playing together as a team, and all of those hard lessons that we learned early on, now we’re really meshing. Moving into Districts for next week, I’m feeling confident.”

The six graduating seniors started the game together, and played out most of the first set. After Greenhills jumped out to a commanding early lead, the Gryphons had some room for error: players worked on their jump serves and drop shots, working to get maneuvers that might not be quite ready yet into game shape before the District tournament. By the end of the match, though, with Greenhills sitting comfortably in the lead, Willard was able to follow the senior night tradition, gradually subbing her seniors out, each to one last round of applause.

The student section of the stands was nearly full, and cheered the team on enthusiastically. It was three days before Halloween, and some students were in costume; one student tracked the Gryphons’ aces on an erasable whiteboard, and led fans in the team’s “ace!” chant each time Greenhills hit another unreturnable serve.

The early lead, which the Gryphons never relinquished, didn’t just allow Willard to celebrate her seniors appropriately. She also found players opportunities that they might not usually get. Several players who usually stay back on defense, like Riya Narayan and senior Avni Mangrulkar, earned kills, a rarity for defensive players. Bench players, usually in reserve for senior starters, took to the court as Willard subbed her starters out, getting a taste of the starting roles they may claim next season, when the team’s six seniors have graduated.

“They’ve got some big shoes to fill, definitely,” Willard said. “But the great thing about these seniors is that they took underclassmen under their wing and really tried to give them the gifts and talents that they could give. I challenged them to try to build some connections and give their knowledge and hints and tricks to underclassmen, and today I really saw that.”

The team only has a few days before District playoffs start, but they’re not trying to cram in emergency preparations. After all, Willard said, they’ve been practicing all year. The team has plans for a Halloween-themed practice, including candy, costumes, and a spooky, darkened gym, then a mental preparation session on Sunday, the day before Districts begin. Greenhills will face Charyl Stockwell Prep in the first round of the tournament at Whitmore Lake on Monday, and while the Sentinels will be a tough opponent, the Gryphons have already beaten them once this season.

“It’s going to be a battle,” Willard said, “but we’re excited to be in the driver’s seat.”

After the game, the six seniors, along with Willard and assistant coach Kristin Finn, sat for the traditional Senior Night post-game interview. After the players had gone through their favorite volleyball memories, reflected on the impact of the Greenhills sports program, and given advice to their younger selves, Willard spoke one more time.

“I challenged them to leave something for their legacy, and this is it,” she said. “I’m getting teared up, because they mean a lot to this program. They went through a lot from COVID — having short practices, practicing outside, the masks — but look at how amazing they are. You did it.”

“You left your legacy,” Willard continued. “Now let’s go out and leave it on Monday. Let’s get the job done.”

By James Schapiro, Communications and Athletics Information Coordinator

Saturday, April 24
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