Their 2-1 loss Nov. 7 to Horace Mann was probably not the best game the members of The Brearley School volleyball team played this season. They suffered their third and final defeat of the fall, and the aftermath thus involved team huddles, plenty of hugs and some tears.
But the young (if the cliché may be permitted) are resilient, and this is especially true when they can be proud of an astonishingly successful season. And so by the time the players emerged from the locker room at Brearley’s field house on the Upper East Side about 20 minutes after falling in the semifinals of the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS) volleyball championship, heads were once again held high.
“They played together and supported one another,” Brearley head coach Susan Seufert said. “If one part of the unit wasn’t working, the others would pick up the slack. The kids on the bench stepped in all the time. This was one of the most successful seasons I’ve ever been a part of.”
Brearley finished with a sparkling record of 18-3, and according to Nafeesa Islam and Addy Shreffler, two of the squad’s captains, that success came almost entirely from teamwork.
“I think it’s the team. We’re kind of a cult,” Islam said with a laugh. “It’s all about the team for us. I’ve been playing volleyball for nine years, and I’ve never been on a team as close as this one. And I think that cohesiveness has really helped us on the court. It’s all about how excited we are. We always cheer each other. We’re always pulling for one another.”
“Volleyball is all about trust, so if you trust your team you play well,” Shreffler added.
Trust and teamwork kept the squad close throughout the match against Horace Mann. Islam often played the role of an emotional sparkplug, initiating cheers among her teammates and at one point egging on the home crowd to get louder. But on a day when Horace Mann’s defense was indefatigable, Brearley played mostly from behind.
“They were a scrappy team. They just kept coming at us,” Seufert said.
Horace Mann won the first game 25-23 and had victory nearly in hand in the second game, going ahead by four points early and eventually holding a 22-18 lead. But then, in the most brilliant moment of the night for the hosts, Brearley stormed back.
Islam and Shreffler provided the defense, setting up fellow captain and setter Liz Moore to run the offense. She directed the ball to the two best hitters, Emily Auran and freshman Catherine Egan, for some powerful spikes. Together they scored seven straight to win the game. Junior Danielle Dong capped the run with a service ace, one of two she had on the night to go along with 16 digs, or defensive saves.
“It was their heart,” Seufert said. “They were already talented when they came out to preseason. But from that point they gave everything they had, and I knew we had something special from the get go.”
Islam finished with 21 digs, Shreffler had 16 and Moore 15 as well as 21 assists and three blocks. Auran racked up 14 kills (successful attacks), while Egan had 10, along with three blocks. The skill on both sides of the net was such that long rallies became common, neither team willing to let a mistake interrupt the action.
But, in the end, Brearley couldn’t make up a deficit two games in a row. Once again, the hosts fell behind early in the third game, and this time they could not catch up. Despite tying up the score several times, they lost 25-19.
“Up until the 24th point in the third game, I still had complete confidence that we could win,” Seufert said. “And that’s something special about this group, to have that type of confidence.”
Two days later, Horace Mann lost the NYSAIS championship match to Spence 3-2. Spence also won the postseason tournament of the Athletic Association of Independent Schools, a citywide league, by upsetting Brearley in the final two weeks ago.
Despite those twin letdowns, Seufert had plenty to be proud of in her first year as head coach. Her team won the AAIS season title because of its regular-season record and came close to winning the state trophy for the first time since 2005. Gabi D’Addario, a member of that championship team and now a student at Columbia, served as assistant coach for Brearley this season. She and Seufert were there to remind their players after the match how much they had accomplished
“The special moments of this season were in the day to day,” Seufert said. “It really was. I know that sounds a little clichéd, but we came to every practice excited. We had challenges, but this team kept getting better and rising to every occasion. I can’t single out anyone. We had great senior leadership, but everyone played well.”
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