Girls Volleyball Pulls Off a Ross School Rarity

Middle school team goes 10-0
How sweet it was to go through the season undefeated. Caitlin Walsh

It’s a rarity, or so it has been of late, that the Ross School can boast of a league champion, much less an undefeated one, but it happened recently as its middle school girls volleyball team — there is at the moment no high school varsity or junior varsity — won at home the deciding set versus Springs Green, capping a 10-0 season.

The players, seventh and eighth graders, were ecstatic, as were their parents, especially in light of the fact that when the fall began it seemed as if there might not be a team, the former volleyball coach having left.

An incoming wellness teacher, Kristyn Polucha, a 31-year-old who had played soccer and lacrosse at Ithaca College and had earned a master’s degree in nutrition at the University of Memphis, was tapped for the job, prompting her to watch “a lot of volleyball videos online” and to acquaint herself with strategies employed in the fast-paced game, a game in which momentum can turn on a dime.   

“I had no clue,” Polucha said this week, insofar as volleyball coaching went. “I was thrown into the fire my first day on campus.”

“Ross is not known for sports,” said Melissa Roach, whose daughter, Chloe Hincapie, plays on the team and served out the match that capped the undefeated season. “We’ve been the Bad News Bears pretty much all these years,” aside from tennis, though those boys and girls championships came a while ago. 

“So, no, in the beginning nobody thought they’d do well, especially after we were told there was a new coach who had no volleyball experience.”

“After their first game,” said Sandy Castillo, “my daughter [Scarlett Gilmartin-Castillo] came home and said, ‘Mom, we won,’ and I said, ‘Really? That’s nice. . . .’ ”

“Then, when after their second match she came home and said, ‘Mom, we won again!’ I began to pay attention. Scarlett’s an eighth grader, but she never played volleyball before — she’d had hip surgery last year. . . . When her coach told me she was an amazing server, I said, ‘Really?’ I went to just about all their games, 98 percent of them. Those girls worked so hard, and Kristyn was amazing. She knew the right time to take timeouts; she was very strategic. The girls were so impressive. They never got down on themselves. They fought hard for every point, their teamwork was great. . . .”

“I think during the course of the whole season they only lost five or six sets,” said Mark Walsh, whose daughter, Bella, an eighth grader, was the team’s setter. “They were a great group — they played hard.”

It was a feather in the team’s cap, he said, that it had beaten Springs, a traditionally strong program, twice — its Green and White teams — and that it had beaten Center Moriches as well during the undefeated skein.

“We beat Springs, East Hampton, we beat them all,” said Roach. “The coach and the team, it was a joint effort.”

“When in the last game it was tied at two apiece, Kristyn went with her top six,” Castillo said, “and everyone on the bench was cheering them on.”

“All the parents were there . . . it was an unreal moment in time, all the moms’ hearts were pounding, knowing the girls had come so far,” said Roach. “Coach [Howard] Brown [Ross’s athletic director] is going to put a banner up in the gym, I think. I know the girls would love one.”

Things ought now to be on the upswing in girls volleyball and girls tennis, said Walsh, “though some of them are going to have to choose because both seasons are in the fall.”

When asked, he said he thought his daughter would choose tennis. Castillo said she thought Scarlett, who’s a serious tennis player, would choose volleyball, “because it’s fast and fun and a real team sport.”

Ross’s roster comprised Margaret McAuliffe, Tracy Bao, Sophia Verde, Amelia Burton, Gilmartin-Castillo, Keira Forsman, Caitlin Jhin, Walsh, Delani Beavers, Chelsea Coard, Lila McGlynn, Hincapie, Phoebe Hackett, and Sophia Sanchez.