GDS Varsity Volleyball Comes Up Short in First DCSAA Final

Seniors Claire Cooper and Pallavi Bhargava during the DCSAA final game. Photo by Reid Alexander.

GDS women’s varsity volleyball lost to Wilson High School in a devastating five-set D.C. State Athletic Association final match on Nov. 12. After dropping the first two sets, GDS made a comeback to tie the sets 2–2, but the Hoppers’ efforts were not enough to secure a victory in the team’s first ever DCSAA final, ending their historically successful season.

The team competed in the DCSAA tournament in the week after losing the Independent School League’s upper-division final game to Flint Hill on Nov. 7. Following a first-round bye, the Hoppers defeated Georgetown Visitation and seven-time DCSAA champion St. John’s. The highly anticipated and well attended DCSAA final became a tough five-set battle—26–24, 29–27, 18–25, 17–25, 15–9—for GDS, the tournament’s No. 1 seed.

“That was literally the hardest-fought game we’ve ever played,” senior Lizzie Rosenman, one of the team’s captains, said in an emotional interview after the game. 

“​​It was a heartbreaker of a game,” head coach Brandon Wiest told the Bit the next day. “But if our season was going to end with a loss, that’s exactly how we’d like for it to happen. Repeatedly fighting through adversity, bouncing back from errors and playing with the high-energy, aggressive and positive mindset—that is the core of our program.”

The GDS varsity volleyball team had dominated the ISL and other local competition all season long, proving to be a powerhouse of GDS athletics. The team previously crushed the Wilson Tigers 3–0 in a preseason scrimmage without its star setter and captain, senior Claire Cooper.

We went into the game today prepared for anything,” senior Isa Rene said. “We have been working so incredibly hard this season and it has truly paid off. I don’t think we went in expecting to win, but we went in ready to fight.”

Huge crowds of students, parents and teachers from both Wilson and GDS crowded the Sidwell Friends School’s gym to watch the final game. Students sat on the stairs of the bleachers, lined up along the indoor track and crowded the balcony. Both schools’ rowdy fan sections screamed and chanted after each point.

“We have never been involved in such an intense game with so many fans,” Rene said. “GDS fans really pulled through this year, and we hope they continue to throughout the next years.” 

Both Wilson and GDS finished their respective regular seasons with only a single loss, each to undefeated Flint Hill. After earning the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye, GDS was the clear favorite to win the tournament.

Senior Claire Cooper, another of the team’s captains, told the Bit that beating St. John’s in the semifinals was “a huge accomplishment.”

GDS lost the thrilling first set of the championship game in 25 minutes after beginning with a promising 4–0 start. The two teams competed neck and neck and the Hoppers rebounded from two notable deficits to tie the game at 24 before losing the final two points to lose the set.

“I think we lost honestly in the first set,” Rosenman said. “It really got us down when we lost 26–24. We didn’t play like we usually do.”

In the second set, GDS rallied to a 24–19 lead after being down 2-0 and seemed close to securing a set victory. But after costly mistakes and defensive saves by Wilson, the Hoppers’ lead evaporated into a 29–27 loss.

GDS was down two sets to none, so the third set was make or break for them. Senior and captain Pallavi Bhargava hyped her teammates up before the set.

Wiest told the Bit, “During the break following that second set, we briefly talked about how there was no pressure on us and we needed to take it off ourselves.”

In the third set, the Hoppers stayed focused when down 14–10, closing the gap to a tie at 14. Scoring five straight points, the Hoppers took a 19-14 lead and eventually won the set with a score of 25–18. 

The Hoppers also prevailed in the fourth set, getting out to an 8–5 lead and securing a final score of 25–17 final score for the set. 

GDS had only played two other games to five sets this season, against Madeira in the regular season and Holton Arms in the ISL semifinals. In the fifth set, the score goes only to 15, not the usual 25. Wilson quickly went up 8–3, seven points within victory. Yet, even after cutting Wilson’s lead to 9–7, the Hoppers could not prevail, losing a tough 15–9 set. 

“We’ve gotten down by like 5-0 in the fifth set and pulled it out,” Rosenman said, “but this time there was a lot of pressure, and it was a lot harder to come back.”

The team walked off the court with their heads held high and proud of their successful season.

“The fact that we were down two sets and came back to play five is insane,” Rene reflected.  “This grit just shows how much our team cares and how hard we work for every single point. We made a decision to push through and not give up. Although it didn’t end the way we wanted it to, we could not have had a better game and better season.”