GREENWICH — When Greenwich volleyball coach Steve Lapham learned three years ago that a freshman player from California had transferred to town, there was the expected sight-unseen excitement.
“I had no idea. She was this short little girl and she came in,” Lapham recalled with a chuckle. “I said “Where is she?’ I said ‘Where’s my 6-1 beach player?”
That initial reaction changed the moment Maggy Egan stepped onto the court.
“As soon as I saw her set once I said she’s on varsity,” Lapham recalled. “She had naturally soft hands and she’s a very good setter.”
Good volleyball players can indeed come in smaller packages. Egan underwent a position change two years ago, and last week reached the pinnacle of an outstanding career. Egan finished with 23 kills to help lead the Cardinals to a three-game sweep over top-seeded St. Joseph and their first FCIAC title since 2013, the year before she arrived. That followed a semifinal win over Ridgefield in which Egan had 21 kills.
What made Egan’s dominance more impressive: she is 5-4.
Egan has compensated with her intelligence, natural ability and chemistry with Nicole Wood, the Cardinals’ setter.
“My height restricts me in some ways but it comes down to the set,” Egan said. “Nicole makes it so blockers have less time, so it is all about timing. Little things like that.”
Egan was successful on 72 percent of her hitting opportunities against the Cadets, who had not lost a match in conference play and had already defeated Greenwich twice. Lapham said Egan easily had the best rate at net by any of his players this season, and in the days since the final opposing coaches and even opponents have raved about her performance.
“Her best two games were the semis and finals,” Lapham said. “Maggy was perfect. Her hitting was sensational. Nicole puts it there but Maggy was still mixing it up.”
Including a first-round state tournament victory Monday over Darien, the Cardinals have won 16 straight matches since a 4-4 start.
“Communication and energy on the court is what makes us so good,” Egan said. “When we really have high energy we play better. We love to play and want to be there. Being in the moment and having that will to win is what is getting us through.”
Egan has been a four-year starter, but her first two seasons with the Cardinals were spent as the quarterback running the offense, not finishing plays.
Egan played some setter early last year, until the emergence of Wood allowed Lapham to bolster two positions.
“As time progressed Coach Lapham saw I had other abilities and then Nicole came and she was way better than me,” Egan said.
The Cardinals were hit hard by graduation losses last year, which ended with elimination in both the league and state semifinals. The Class LL defeat to Ridgefield was particularly difficult: Greenwich had a two-set lead.
“We lost seven seniors so I didn’t have that much high hopes for us,” said Egan, who was named a captain. “I didn’t really know. I didn’t know which players would step up but everyone got a lot better during the offseason and that helped us a lot.”
Still, when Greenwich was .500 nearly midway though the season it showed few signs of being a championship contender.
“We changed our lineups probably 10 times, our serve-receive and everything,” Lapham said. “We put Maggie on the right side. There was a lot of turmoil and we finally put the pieces together and I think that’s why we are on such a good run.”
The Cardinals came together as a team, with Tara Ford another strong hitter and Adnerys De Jesus outstanding on the back row. Egan’s contributions extended to other areas.
“Being named a captain made me have to step out of my comfort zone and become a leader,” Egan said. “When I was a younger player I felt like I stayed back and was a little too quiet, so having that role as a captain is what made me just want to make the whole team better and is what got us to communicate better on the court. Off the court in social situations I’m really outgoing, I love to make people laugh but on the court I was more timid as a player. I think I’ve overcome that over the years. I do have my moments when I do get frustrated, but I have become a lot better in that area.”
Lapham said if the Cardinals were a puzzle, Egan would be a center piece.
“She’s just got the experience,” Lapham said. “I call her the glue to the team because she keeps everybody together. She’s very organized as a captain and she has really stepped up. This year she has been rock-solid and she peaked in the postseason.”
Egan said she has learned to compensate for trying to hit against blockers who have a distinct height advantage.
“It’s the sets and your wrist movement,” Egan said. “I love to tip, so being able to jump high enough to just get the ball over the blockers’ hands is what gets you points. Tipping and wrist movement is what helps me get the points that I do. I would do anything to be taller but I think I have done as much as I can with my height. I think I have stepped up as more of a leader and I’d like to think I’m one of the stronger players on the team. I just want to do what is best for my team.”
The FCIAC title was the key prize, but Egan said there was additional satisfaction in being named MVP.
“It means so much to me,” she said. “I never would have thought I would have gotten that title but I definitely owe it to my team. They’re giving me the support and energy that I needed to get the points that I did. I owe it to the team and especially Nicole.”
Because Egan plans on attending a large Division I school, her future in the sport after the season will be on the club level. She is hoping that the end won’t come until four more matches and in the state final a week from Saturday.
“I definitely think we’ve exceeded everyone’s expectations,” Egan said. “We won FCIACs and we’re in states now and I think we have a really great shot at winning the state title. We just need to keep working really hard at practice.”