When the Academy at Palumbo’s girls volleyball players were devising the look of their warmup jerseys at the beginning of the year, they wanted to do something that reflected the familial culture of the group – something that was stressed by the team’s coach, EJ Goldstein. As a result, instead of printing last names on the back of the warmups, they went with the word “family.” And they wrote it in Mandarin.
“It was my idea,” said Goldstein. “I think there are languages that have pretty cool characters, and Mandarin is one of them. I liked the aesthetic of it. ”
Goldstein didn’t want it in English because he wanted it to be “our thing.”
“We didn’t want everyone to know what it meant,” he said. Perhaps it was the girls’ family-centric mindset that helped them earn their second Public League volleyball championship in a row. In fact, it was their fourth in six years, and the third time in a row they reached the finals.
“It feels good,” said starting center Isabella Siligrini, a junior, when asked how it felt to repeat. “It feels like I accomplished something.”
On the road to the championship, Palumbo defeated Audenried, the Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush, Carver High School of Engineering and Science, Strawberry Mansion, then Central in the finals. The team was able to maintain its dominance despite graduating four seniors, three of whom were starters. Goldstein said that it was possibly because the players who were left stepped up to overcome the losses. No player improved more from last season than senior T’Ronnie Dorsey, Goldstein said.
“She always asks for ways to improve and challenge herself every day to get better and she took more of a leadership role,” Goldstein said. As a result, he made her a captain on the team. Dorsey was surprised to be made captain, but took on the role anyway.
“I felt like they needed someone on the team to pull everybody together, so I just stepped up into the role,” she said.
It would be easy to make the argument that Palumbo coasted to the final; after all, the team lost just one regular season set all year (not counting out-of-league tournaments). However, there were a few hurdles the girls had to overcome. For starters, the team’s two backup centers were sidelined for chunks of the year with concussions and the team didn’t have a single summer practice with 100 percent attendance due to vacations and whatnot.
One particular highlight of the year was in the regular season against Central, which was the lone match Palumbo lost a set. During that match, starting junior Ellie Benedict wasn’t allowed to play because “she got in trouble at home,” according to Goldstein. Additionally, another starting junior, Aasiya Craft-Williams, was sick. Despite these two setbacks, Palumbo still pulled through with a 3-1 victory. Last year, Goldstein said the girls volleyball team was the best he’s ever coached. But this year’s topped it. Starting junior Jael Hillard believes this year’s team was better because it “trusts one another more.”
“If there’s a problem between two of us, we’ll address it, talk about it, then get over it,” said Hillard. “We’ve built that bond and we’re tight together. So when it comes to playing on the court, we trust each other.”
Another big reason for the team’s big step forward was a “core” group of five players who all played volleyball in middle school at Greenfield School before joining the Palumbo team. The core was Hillard, Siligrini, Benedict, Craft-Williams and junior Tori Adams.
“The difference from a skill standpoint comes from that core,” said Goldstein. “I’d never had a group come in with that much experience. It makes me excited because it meant we should be able to run faster and do faster things because it’s another year of them all being together.” The best part? Everybody in the core is a junior, so they should be together for one more year. Upon winning the Public League championship, Palumbo lost in the District 12 Class 3A championship match to Cardinal O’Hara, 3-1. Palumbo is scheduled to face top-ranked Pope John Paul II in the PIAA state tournament on tonight.