Palumbo Volleyball’s journey falls just short of ultimate prize

There was no hiding the tears that fell to the floor of the gymnasium on Wednesday. 

The Academy at Palumbo volleyball team had just spent it all in the Public League high school volleyball championship. And after a three-set loss to defending champ Central High School, those tears didn’t resemble disappointment. It was just a testament to how hard the Griffins worked this season and how bad they wanted it.

“I’m unbelievably proud of this team this year that we even made it this far,” said senior co-captain Telise Davis-Carter. “We all put our best in, and at the end of the day there’s nothing you can do to change the result today, but we can know that we put our all in, and that’s why I’m most proud.”

Prior to the season, the Griffins didn’t think they’d be in this position, having lost several key components of a very talented 2022 squad. But the senior leadership took over, the sweat equity was accumulated, and Palumbo found itself back in the hunt. The Griffins faced Central on Sept. 18 and won a five-set thriller that filled the roster with confidence.

“It wasn’t until the first Central match where we started to really believe that this is where we were going to end up,” Griffins coach EJ Goldstein said. “Up until then, it was, hey let’s work really hard and all that stuff, but the expectation of winning and being in the finals wasn’t what we all thought until that moment.”

The Griffins suffered just one Public League loss, which came to Parkway Center City Middle College on Oct. 12. Palumbo got its revenge in the semifinal round of the playoffs with a 3-1 victory to set the championship stage against Central, which was played at South Philadelphia High School. 

Palumbo held a 15-11 lead in the first set before the Lancers won the first stanza 25-23. The Griffins burst out to an 8-1 lead in set No. 2, but couldn’t break an 11-1 run by Central, which seemed to be the crushing blow of the match. The Lancers took the final two sets, 25-21 and 25-19. But each set featured a furious rally by the Griffins, who simply didn’t go down easy.

“Our whole thing this year was fighting back all the time,” Davis-Carter said. “We’d come back from a first-set loss and win the whole game. I just think our mentalities aligned well and we just love each other on and off this court so we always want to win for ourselves and for Goldstein.”

Central, whose only loss in the regular season was to Palumbo, knew it would have a fight on its hands as the program was seeking back-to-back titles. 

“They were the only match that we dropped this season (in the Public League),” said Central coach Jen Rhyshek. “We battled head-to-head every game. We knew this was not going to be a walk in the park. We knew we had our work cut out for us. We got to scout each other at the semifinals on Monday night so it was even Steven on information. It was exactly what we expected with close scores all the way.”

For Palumbo’s group of seniors, they experienced a PPL title in 2020, and three trips to the championship game. 

“I got really good kids,” Goldstein said. “They work really hard. And they really enjoy being with each other every day. There’s no drama and they challenge me to be more challenging on them. I never had to fight with kids to be at practice. They were all accountable. There was nothing more that I wanted than to win for them.”

Although a fantastic senior class leaves, there’s lots of talent coming back next season for Palumbo, along with a few more fans.

“Next year, I’ll be right back here in the stands cheering them on,” Davis-Carter said. “I 100-percent think they are going to make it back to the same exact spot and I’m hoping for a different outcome, of course.”