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Spiked enthusiasm

Did someone say “dynasty”? The Palumbo players have a claim to call themselves that after downing Masterman for the championship.

Photo provided by Erik Goldstein

Sports fans often hear about how college programs and professional squads frequently experience rebuilding periods. That, of course, does not mean high school teams cannot undergo the same sort of major overhaul; it’s just that the former types of change receive much more scrutiny. Tinkering with a roster and pondering an identity once alterations have occurred typically equal losing campaigns, but such is not the case for the volleyball unit at The Academy at Palumbo.

Having lost 11 seniors from the 2014 club that captured the Public League championship, the school proved somewhat new faces can produce similar results, as the Lady Griffins claimed another league title Nov. 2.

“We definitely wanted to go out on top,” senior Nicolette Peccina said Monday of her Hawthorne-based peers, who defeated Masterman 3–2 at Community College of Philadelphia to prompt consideration that coach Erik Goldstein might have a dynasty in the making. “We’ve worked very hard to have a strong identity, so we like that we can call ourselves the champions again.”

The Marconi resident and her teammates topped a perennial powerhouse to make South Philly proud again, and did so in what fellow senior Melanie Gonzalez called “the craziest experience you could imagine.” Not even a potentially controversial sequence in the crucial end stage could counter their conviction, and their eventual elation solidified their coach’s contention that the program continues to find itself blessed to field such determined contributors.

“Starting with our first season, I’ve been really happy to instruct so many girls who believe not only in their skills but the complete commitment to one another that it takes to be among the elites,” Goldstein said. “We reached the pinnacle two years ago, and, despite losing so many players, we made it to the (Public League) semifinals last year, so to get back to the point where we can celebrate another title is definitely my proudest moment.”

“There is a really strong family bond among us,” senior Dhel Phau said to nods from fellow captain Apple Quiros and Ariana McGeary. “A huge part of that is the connection we have with our coach because we know how much he looks forward to seeing us succeed.”

The Lower Moyamensing dweller has reveled in increasing her role as a leader and looked forward to the task of cementing last week’s matchup as a component of her contemporaries’ long-term memories. When a setting error by the Griffins’ vaunted opponents ended the grueling battle, she and the others flashed smiles and shared hugs destined to be unforgettable joys.

“I think we all thought right away that we should keep this momentum going as much as we can,” McGeary, a freshman gifted with admirable height and a bubbly personality, said. “That’s what winners do; they keep thinking about how to improve.”

That philosophy has long served Goldstein in encouraging roster members, and he entered this season feeling a few tweaks to his approach could yield a very prosperous run, especially against their foes in the Independence Division, the Public League’s top group.

“I knew they would always want to give their all no matter the situation or the opposition,” the school’s athletic director said of preparing the young ladies for the rigors of such intense competition. “There were some things to overcome in the beginning, but the more they dedicated themselves and the more I kept asking of them and myself, the more fluid everything became.”

The regular season proved the ease with which they accepted their mission to make division rivals miserable, as they emerged undefeated, often registering shutouts against outmatched adversaries and comprehensively combining their talents to inspire an exciting postseason experience.

“I know I pressured myself to play better because we’re all in this together and need to be accountable to each other,” Quiros, yet another South Philly-bred star, said. “As everyone else has said, I have to give credit to coach Goldstein for inspiring that thinking.”

With only one non-league loss to John W. Hallahan to its name, the Lady Griffins knew the Public League constituents would want to send them packing early, but the added intensity that Quiros et al nurtured come late last month carried over and became the difference in the electric deciding set, with the 20–18 score as evidence of the nail-biting affair.

“This whole year, I’ve liked seeing how well the girls have meshed as a group and how eagerly they’ve reacted to expectations,” Goldstein said. “You don’t bring home a championship if there’s not total commitment to every play and every interaction with your teammates.”

Taking an 18–1 mark into Nov. 4’s District XII championship tilt, the Lady Griffins fought valiantly but fell to Cardinal O’Hara.

“We’ll get that one next year,” McGeary vowed to her departing friends. “It’s important to put that behind us but have a chip on our shoulder for the state tournament.”

In Tuesday’s Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association opener in Reading, the local squad fell to Berks Catholic, 3–0. SPR

Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at jmyers@southphillyreview.com.

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