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Green volleyball falls just short of regional berth

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent

GREEN  A top Federal League volleyball team making a run to a Division I district final is nothing new.

Local volleyball fans have gotten used to that sight, but typically the Federal League power in question wears purple and gold. This season, however, it wasn’t only the Jackson Polar Bears making postseason noise from the league’s ranks.

Green's Liberty Torres blocks a shot at the net during the Bulldogs' victory against Louisville earlier this year.

Green turned in one of its best seasons in recent memory, posting an 18-6 record, 9-3 league mark and district final appearance that the Bulldogs had in their sights from the outset.

“They had the thought coming into the beginning of the season, saying this is something they were going to be able to accomplish,” second-year Green head coach Alyssa Thewes said. “We have a great group of hardworking girls, exceptional talent and a lot of firepower.”

That firepower came from multiple sources, but the two primary options were senior hitters Liberty Torres and Taylor Peterson. Peterson posted a team-best 375 kills on the season, with Torres second at 324. They received plenty of help from fellow seniors Kylie DeLuca and Maria Pizzino, who helmed the back line and the passing attack capably.

Green's Taylor Peterson serves during the Bulldogs' victory against Louisville earlier this season.

Pizzino posted 621 assists feeding the team’s big hitters, while DeLuca posted 340 digs as the squad’s defensive specialist.

Aside from losing their two matchups with Jackson, which remains undefeated and in the regional tournament, the Bulldogs dropped only a match against Hoover in league play. Their 9-3 league record was good for second place, a significant accomplishment given where they were just two seasons ago.

“It’s a huge game changer and momentum, especially going from being second to last two years ago to second in the league,” Thewes said of the league ranking and district final appearance. “The girls put lot of effort into offseason training and up until the Jackson game, they were beating most teams in straight sets.”

Even after losing to Jackson, Green was able to rebound and make its way to a district final against Painesville Riverside. On the brink of elimination multiple times, the Bulldogs fought their way to a fifth set before falling, proving what both the players and coaches believed before the season, namely that they had the ability to go further in the postseason than last year.

“When we first took over the program, walking in we knew we would have a lot of talent looking into this season,” Thewes said. ”We were hoping coronavirus stayed away so we would be able to have a season.”

That season saw many big moments, including a dramatic five-set win over Louisville on senior night. The squad’s four seniors were central to the season’s successes and three of them – DeLuca (Muskingum), Peterson (Tiffin) and Torres (Cleveland State) – will be playing college volleyball next season

However, a four-person senior class is smaller than many schools have and that should be a positive going forward. Replacing those four seniors will be tough, but having only four this season meant that plenty of underclassmen got a chance to contribute and gain significant varsity experience in big matches.

Mindset was central to what Green hoped to do this season, from seeking to avenge a district semifinal loss from last season to changing the overall perception of the program from one that wasn’t quite at an elite level to one considered capable of competing against the best of the best.

“Very much after the last match even last year, the thought was, ‘Okay, how can we do better next year,’ and even in the offseason coming into this year, they wanted some payback after losing to Hudson last year in the district semifinals,” Thewes said. “One of their accomplishments for this group of seniors was that they did a great job of changing the mentality of the program, knowing we’ll come in there, work hard, not be subpar and work toward those accomplishments.”

Reaching that same level year after year is what defines the very best program and in order to match those 18 wins and have a chance to win a district title again next season, the Bulldogs will need their returning players to take the same approach to the offseason while seeing their respective roles increase as they fill the void left by their graduating seniors.

It promises to be one of the program’s toughest challenges to date, but this season proved that the Bulldogs are capable of raising the bar on what’s expected of them.