A look back at the last time Torrington volleyball made it to the finals. 2008.
TORRINGTON: Janet Giampaolo still relishes her time when she was the head girls’ volleyball coach at Torrington High School.
She bleeds maroon and white and is truly dedicated to the Raider way of life.
On Saturday morning, Giampaolo will be in the stands at East Haven High School for the morning show, or as it is officially called, the Class M State volleyball title game which begins at 10 a.m.
She will be watching a former player of hers, Christine Gamari, look to complete the journey that the 2008 version of the Raiders came up just short of, that of a state champion.
Hanging on the wall at the Connie Donahue Gymnasium, a place Giampaolo knows well from being part of the first girls teams ever to play at Torrington back in 1975 when girls’ sports were introduced, is a banner with black letters and a white back-round.
It’s the banner that goes up right near the legendary coach, who has his picture emblazoned on the wall, surrounded by teams over the years who have either made it to the top spot of State Champion or made it to a final and just missed.
The banner for volleyball reads ‘Girls Volleyball. Connecticut “L” Division State Runner-Up 2008.’
In 2008, the last time a girls team got this far, a very special team posted a regular season record of 17-1, losing to only Seymour in the last game of the regular season.
Giampaolo talked about what made that squad so special and allowed them to make a deep run into the tournament.
“Going into the season,” Giampaolo said. “We knew we had a good team. We played in the Connecticut Sports Center, which is out of Woodbridge in their summer league and they won the whole thing. So there was no doubt going in that we had a good team.”
Her daughter Julia, one of the best players Torrington ever sent on to college at the University of Miami, was in her junior year and was traveling and it led to a gift that became a symbol for the team.
“One of the things that I did with the kids was after Julia went to the USA Volleyball camp at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid,” Giampaolo said. “Was that I went into the gift store and found red, white and blue bracelets and each player got one. It was just kind of a reminder that if we were really going to do this that we were going to have to prioritize our time and really focus on the prize.”
That team was loaded. Aside from Julia, Torrington put out standouts like Casey Jacobs, Brooke Johnson, Julie Casey, Erica O’Grady and Sonya Ceuch to name a few.
Olivia Weber was also part of that team and has a connection to this year’s team through her sister, junior Isabel Weber.
“It’s kind of cool,” Giampaolo said. “Isabel is on the team this year and I see her wearing her sister’s jacket.”
It was a determined group back in 2008, the commitment they made when they played together during that summer had paid off.
“They were a great group of kids who knew they had the ability because I kept reminding them that they had the ability,” Giampaolo said. “They wanted to get to the state finals and they did it.”
How does the former coach feel about seeing the sports she loves knocking on the door once again?
“I think it’s so cool that it’s volleyball again,” Giampaolo said. “They will have another white banner going up and it’s only a matter of whether it’s a runner-up or a champion banner.”
In 2008, the finals were against a Darien team that took the Raiders best punch and gave it back.
“We actually jumped out to a pretty decent lead in the first game,” Giampaolo said. “I want to say we might have scored the first eight points. We really had them in shock but they were not a team to give up, they just chipped away. We ended up losing 3-0.”
Julia Giampaolo has gone on to do remarkable things, as did many of the other stars on that team.
“Julia played volleyball for four years at Miami and got her degree in athletic training,” Giampaolo said. “She went to Florida State for her Masters with her undergraduate in athletic training. After a two years Master Program at Florida State, she became the Florida State volleyball athletic trainer.”
When Gamari took over the team in 2010, Giampaolo knew the program was in good hands.
“Deep in my heart, I wanted to turn the team over to Christine,” Giampaolo said. “I knew she would keep all the traditions and she would work the kids hard. She would make the program even better.”
On Saturday, the current coach will try and take her team to the winner’s circle one more time, adding an historic and welcome addition to Connie’s wall at Torrington High School.