Fire and ice do not normally complement each other. For the Springfield College women’s volleyball team, however, its version of Fire and Ice has been instrumental in leading the Pride to a 21-1 record (5-1 in conference play) and the No. 18 ranking in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Division III National Poll as of Tuesday, Oct. 11.
With a collection of standout hitters, including seniors Lauren Torvi, Kim Giaquinto and sophomore Tessa Smolinski starring for the Pride, two freshmen setters have snuck under the radar during the team’s historic start to the season.
Their contributions could not be more crucial to the team’s success, however, especially with the departure of four-year starter Kelsea Hellyar, who recorded no less than 1,250 assists in all four of her seasons at the helm of the offensive attack.
Freshman Molly Giannattasio, the Ice, is a five-foot-nine-inch setter hailing from East Lyme, Conn. Her partner, the five-foot-eight-inch freshman Whitney Miller from Cuba, N.Y., brings the Fire. Together, they share the setting duties for the surging Pride.
“Molly has a very consistent flow,” Miller said. “With her, it just comes natural. With me, it takes more practice, a lot more effort.
“I bring a lot of intensity when I’m on the court. I’m crazy. I scream. By the end of the game, my voice is gone.”
Giannattasio, the chiller of the two, agreed.
“I definitely take on more of the quiet role,” she said.
Like their Fire and Ice personalities, Miller and Giannattasio also differ in their skill sets.
According to head coach Moira Long, Giannattasio is slightly taller, so she can practically hand the ball off to her middle hitters. Her height allows her to effectively serve as a blocker in the front row. She also has a firecracker for a serve that can give opponents fits when it is on. Most importantly, her Ice mentality keeps her calm, so she is able to keep things on task.
Miller, on the other hand, summons her inner Fire and utilizes it to the max. Since she is smaller than Giannattasio, she has to “shoot” the ball to hitters, but her jump sets are so effective that she can move the ball quickly to the outside, throwing off the opposition. Her fiery demeanor also leads to an aggressive attack style, since she is more apt to create her own offense by dumping the ball onto the opponent’s side for a point. Her defining quality, however, is her ability to rev the team up when they need it most.
The team has grown accustomed to the duo’s different styles of play, but the prospect of facing two setters with varying styles gives opposing teams nightmares.
“Teams can’t get comfortable to our style of play,” sophomore defensive specialist Clare Henry said.
Despite their polar-opposite personalities, the two have become close friends, both on and off the court.
Their friendship began when they met at a specialty volleyball camp in July, a few weeks before preseason. Their friendship was not the only aspect that caught the eye of Long, who worked with the setters at the camp.
Long, who was a setter at Marist College, said she prefers a one-setter system, but when she saw Miller and Giannattasio play, she adjusted her preferences.
“When I came in and realized the talent level of both of them, I realized I had to put my desires aside of running a 5-1 [five hitters, one setter] because they’re both so good. They need to be on the floor,” Long said. “It’s a novelty. I’ve never had two good setters on my team.”
Miller and Giannattasio began to realize their situation when Long told them they were making her decision as to who would start extremely difficult.
“We both knew subconsciously [that] this is our role, we’re going to do it together and hopefully be successful,” Giannattasio said.
Successful is certainly a word that could be used to describe the Pride’s season so far with the two freshmen leading the way. The team’s 21-straight wins to open the season tied for the longest winning streak in team history with the 2003 campaign, and their No. 18 ranking is the highest since 1995, when Springfield reached the NCAA Championship Elite Eight with a No. 13 ranking.
The pair’s ability to learn Long’s offense quickly and execute it proficiently has played a major role in the team’s up-tempo attack, which has decimated opponents with its dizzying quickness and efficiency.
“The setters really are the quarterbacks of a volleyball team and to run the offense that we want to run, it’s really crucial for them to be on top of it,” said tri-captain and senior Kim Giaquinto. “It’s great that, as freshmen, they can come in and do that.”
Much of their growth has been a result of the way they push each other.
“She pushes me to a level that I’ve never been at before,” Miller said.
“We both want to fight for our spot, but at the same time, we want our team to be successful, and that’s the overall goal,” Giannattasio added.
The friends balance their competitive spirits with supporting each other. They give each other help with technique, tips about handling a specific situation and congratulate each other when they make a good play.
“If Molly gets the start, Whitney’s the first one to walk over and be like, ‘Moll, go get ‘em,’ and vice versa,” Long said. “If Whitney’s on the court and something’s working or something’s not working, I’ll call a timeout, [and] Molly walks over to Whitney behind her and says, ‘Hey, this is what I see.’
“They want each other to be the best they can be. You do not see that in athletics. You don’t see that kind of camaraderie.”
According to Long, Miller and Giannattasio are prime models of playing for the team, which is a quality that cannot be understated.
“When she’s out there, I feel like I’m playing, too,” Miller said of Giannattasio. “She’s representing both of us and vice versa.”
“It doesn’t matter who’s setting, as long as we’re playing well and as a team,” Giannattasio said.
“That’s the great thing about our team,” Giaquinto added. “We can have one go in, one go out, and it really doesn’t make a difference.”
Both Miller and Giannattasio have been able to make the transition from Hellyar smoother than most would have imagined. They have been quick to take the reins to the offense, which allows Long to switch them in and out depending on how they match-up with their opponent.
After a tough 3-1 loss to conference rival Wellesley on Tuesday, Oct. 11 that handed the Pride their first loss of the season, the team will look to their two freshmen setters to return to their winning ways. No matter who gets the start against Clarkson on Friday, Oct. 14, chances are both Fire and Ice will be called upon to complement each other and provide the winning combination for victory.
Joe Brown may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org