The successful 2021 season for the GDS women’s varsity volleyball team has encouraged both an increased level of participation and excitement about GDS’ volleyball program, which led to the creation of a first-ever all-freshman team.
According to varsity head coach Brandon Wiest, since his arrival at GDS eight years ago, the tryout numbers for the volleyball program have risen from 24 students in the year he came to 47 for the 2022 season. He said the girls trying out this year included players who have played for club teams and travel teams and play year-round, which has increased the program’s competitiveness. “The great success of the season last year energized the community around athletics and created more enthusiasm for volleyball,” Wiest said.
This year, the varsity volleyball team is third behind Flint Hill and Episcopal in the AA Division Independent School League (ISL) standings, with a 4–2 record. Out of 15 players, three are seniors. Sophomore Shiraz Benyoucef, a player on the varsity team, said she believed the team is very strong. She said that the team has many skilled hitters, setters and defensive specialists from both the junior and sophomore classes.
Although seven members of last year’s varsity team graduated, the program is still thriving, according to senior Drew Cowan, who manages the varsity team. “We have players replacing those spots and filling in that energy those players brought,” he said.
To account for the high level of interest in the volleyball program, athletic director David Gillespie, assistant athletic director Pam Stanfield, Wiest and the rest of the volleyball coaching staff created an all-freshman team before the season began. The team consists of nine players and a coach and is the first ever all-freshman team in GDS athletics history. The group made the decision to create the team in August due to the large number of girls trying out for the program during pre-season. Not all freshmen who tried out were placed on the freshman team; both the varsity and junior varsity teams have freshman players.
Wiest said volleyball teams at GDS normally have around 12–15 players on the roster, which amounts to about 40 players in total. According to Madeleine Genia, one of the freshman team players, the team started the season with 12 players, but now has nine on its current roster.
“Having a freshman team marks the start of a really good program, and the program will hopefully grow even more,” Cowan said. Although the freshman team is not officially recognized in the ISL records, unlike the varsity and junior varsity teams, they will play a total of five games over the fall season. The team has lost the four games it has played so far.
Three members of the freshman team and one player on junior varsity all expressed excitement about the creation of the freshman team. “I am happy I was able to play volleyball this year,” freshman Nile Crawford said.
“Although we have lost,” Genia said, “it is still a fun experience to play volleyball.”
Sophomore varsity player Leia Levine said she believes the addition of a freshman team creates more opportunities for players to grow. She said she believes the team is helpful for freshmen in “building in more time to become better players” before they participate on a junior varsity or varsity team. Many players in the program are hoping to keep the freshman team in coming years since they think it will be a place to help build the strength of the varsity and junior varsity teams for upcoming seasons.
The team and coaches are hoping to continue fostering the enthusiasm for volleyball at GDS. “As long as there is excitement around volleyball, we are going to do everything that we can to keep growing the program,” Wiest said.