Palumbo volleyball coach: ‘This is the best girls team I ever had,’

Every sports team has its ups and downs throughout any given season. But for Palumbo, there weren’t really too many downs.

If you ask senior Frianna Gultom, the key to the Academy at Palumbo’s varsity girls volleyball team’s success was the family mentality all the girls possessed.

“We genuinely love each other,” she said. “We like to be around each other. I just told [fellow senior and teammate] Nakiyah [Green] earlier that I miss practice already. I miss seeing everyone and I just feel like I’m missing something.”

Every sports team has its ups and downs throughout any given season. But for Palumbo, there weren’t really too many downs. The team went 12–0 in the regular season and 5–0 in the playoffs, defeating Central High School in the AAA high school volleyball championship on Oct. 31. The championship was a rematch of last year’s championship, but with a different result this time.

“I consider Central our biggest rival right now,” said head coach EJ Goldstein. “Especially because our girls team lost to them in the championship last year. Our boys team beat Central in the championship last year, and our girls team beat them in the championship this fall.”

Central’s record for the season? 15–2. Central’s only two losses were to Palumbo — once in the regular season and the second in the championship.

But Palumbo coasted through the regular season, and four of the five teams it played in the playoffis (Jules E. Mastbaum High School, Walter B. Saul High School, Frankford High School and Strawberry Mansion High School). In fact, the team won every single game three sets to none in the best-of-five-set format all teams play. The only exception was the championship game vs. Central, in which Central handed Palumbo its only losing set of the season, 3–1.

“This is the best girls team I ever had,” Goldstein said. “In 2016, we were undefeated as well. The difference between this team and those other teams — and I’ve had some really good individual players — is I have 13 girls on this team and I would argue that 11 of them could start somewhere else.”

One of the biggest struggles of the year was Green’s off-season shoulder surgery. Early in the season, she was a little rusty coming off the injury. She finished rehab in the beginning of June.

“She wasn’t cleared to start swinging until our season started,” Goldstein said. “She had to go through rehab to build up the strength in her shoulder.”

Slowly but surely, Green turned back into her old self.

“I had to ease into it,” she said. “My first week of camp was kind of hard for me swinging because I hadn’t really swung like that and then my second week of camp it got better and I started to get a little bit stronger.”

But that wasn’t the only struggle. The girls and their coach admitted maintaining that family mentality wasn’t always easy at times.

“It was hard to deal with each other a lot of the time because all of us have clashing personalities,” said senior Taylor Scott.

“We all have our separate relationships outside of playing volleyball, so it’s hard,” said Gultom. “A lot of the sophomores look at us as their friends, but while we’re playing together, we’re not friends. We’re teammates, and there’s a difference. They think I’m not going to say anything about the mistakes they may make, and it ruins the relationship. But at the end of the day, we deal with it and figure it out.”

The seniors and Goldstein all agreed the team’s sophomore class played a huge role in this year’s success as well, and is the reason Palumbo has a good chance of staying competitive in the near future despite losing four key seniors to graduation.

Ellie Benedict, Jael Hillard, Aasiya Craft-Williams and T’Ronnie Dorsey were just four of those key sophomores.

“That sophomore group — if something’s going on or if someone’s having a bad day…[one of them] can go in and not skip a beat,” Goldstein said.

Many of the seniors, like Green, said they took on more of a mentorship role than in past years.

“I’m tough on people when I see potential in them, and I know that they kind of want more so I was tough on a couple other players,” she said, referring largely to that group of talented sophomores. “I think they’re going to be the next core players.”