Chapelgate volleyball players came to coach Stephanie Smith during the final week of last season with a proposal: they wanted to participate in a Dig Pink game to honor breast cancer survivors as a part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which occurs every October.
Smith liked the idea, so the Yellowjackets threw together an event before the season ended that proved to be a success, so much so that the program made it a priority to host a Dig Pink game this season. They chose to schedule the event against a non-league opponent — hoping to take the pressure off of their players while having fun and maximizing awareness — and Glenelg Country, the only other private school in Howard County, was one of the first programs they thought to ask. It just so happened that Dragons coach Dennis Seibel reached out to the Yellowjackets first.
“I’ve been trying to get them on our schedule every year — playing here one year, there one year — and we could just never get it on the schedule last year” Seibel said. “In fact, we actually asked them about scheduling a game [this year], and they said, ‘Oh, we were going to contact you about a Dig Pink game.’ We said, ‘perfect.’”
The second annual Dig Pink match took place at Chapelgate on Monday night, with the Yellowjackets picking up their fifth win of the year courtesy of a 25-10, 25-12, 25-19 sweep. However, the Yellowjackets and Dragons likely won’t remember the final score. They’ll instead recall the reason they coordinated the event in the first place.
“We think it brings a lot of awareness to the subject, and a lot of people came out, which brings more awareness to the event,” Chapelgate junior outside hitter Jess Lucas said. “And I know personally, with my grandmother having had breast cancer, that it makes the game more worth it.”
Lucas paced the Yellowjackets (4-3 IAAM B Conference, 5-5 overall) with eight service aces and six kills, but her statistics paled in comparison to the feeling she had honoring her grandmother before the contest.
Clad in a pink headband, pink and blue jersey and pink ribbon breast cancer awareness socks, Lucas presented her grandma with a journal for her to reflect on her struggles and remember her triumphs. Last season, her grandmother received flowers and a small Dig Pink ball with every varsity player’s signature.
In total, three survivors were honored Monday night: Lucas’ grandmother, mother of Yellowjackets junior Mercy Shih and Chapelgate Director of Enrollment Cindy Barr.
“We have a couple of moms and grandmothers that are breast cancer survivors,” Smith said. “So, we just thought it was a good time to honor them and have fun and do breast cancer awareness.”
On the court, Chapelgate found plenty of enjoyment from 24 services aces across three sets. Senior Evan Nesslage led the charge with six aces in the first stanza alone to help her team run away with the victory. When Nesslage stepped up to the service line, the teams were knotted at five. Minutes later, her service game finally ended with the Yellowjackets holding a 17-5 advantage. They proceeded to close out the set by a score of 25-10.
The second frame unfolded in similar fashion, as Chapelgate held a slim advantage halfway through. But once Joi Thornton began serving, the Yellowjackets became unbeatable, stringing together 12 straight points in a 25-12 victory.
In terms of on-court play, Smith said her team benefitted the most from playing without pressure, testing out different types of hits — such as jump serving — and trying out plays it was not yet comfortable with. The service dominance, meanwhile, came as a relief for Smith after her players struggled in that area the past few games.
For Chapelgate to emerge as a conference contender, Smith believes its players have to stay fully healthy. The Yellowjackets dealt with some injuries in the beginning of the season and over the past few weeks, but if they can get back to full strength, keep a positive outlook and keep their energy high, Smith likes her team’s potential.
“There’s always room for improvement. We can work more on our plays and we can work more with our passing,” Lucas said. “Yes, we won, but I think we have a lot more to work on as a team.”
As for Glenelg Country, Seibel found solace in knowing his group played better in every set and that the scoreboard reflected that. With Joy Hursey (six kills, two digs) and Asya Loeb (four assists, one dig) leading the way, the Dragons (2-1 IAAM C Conference, 2-6) actually took a 13-12 lead in the third period. They then came as close as 20-18 before more Chapelgate service aces closed out the match.
Seibel hopes the defeat serves as a learning experience for his players and a motivator for them to maintain a strong work ethic in practice ahead of conference games against Key and Indian Creek on Wednesday and Friday, respectively.
But regardless of how the rest of the season plays out, he’s already looking forward to next season, when Glenelg Country hopes to host Chapelgate in the third annual Dig Pink game.
Chapelgate (4-3 IAAM B Conference, 5-5 overall) vs. Glenelg Country (2-1 IAAM C Conference, 2-6) — 3-0 [25-10, 25-12, 25-19]
Chapelgate stats: Brianna Garret (3 aces, 4 digs), Jess Lucas (8 aces, 6 kills, 3 digs), Olivia Haysbert (2 kills, 3 blocks), Joi Thornton (3 aces, 5 kills, 2 blocks, 1 dig), Emily Baldwin (16 assists, 1 kill, 2 digs), Julija DeVance (4 aces, 1 kill, 1 blocks, 1 dig), Olivia Sunde (4 digs), Evan Nesslage (5 aces, 6 kills, 3 digs), Gabby Little (1 ace, 1 assist, 2 digs)
Glenelg Country stats: Joy Hursey (6 kills, 1 assist, 2 digs), Sydni Williams (3 kills, 3 service aces, 1 assist, 1 dig), Kaelyn Gloyd (1 kill, 1 dig), Tiffany Wu (1 service ace, 1 dig), Zoe Wright (1 service ace), Asya Loeb (4 assists, 1 dig), Melissa Jacob (2 digs).