Former Westhill volleyball coach takes over at No. 1 Greenwich

For the first time in nearly three decades, the Greenwich girls volleyball team will have a new leader. And it’s a former coaching opponent.

Marianna Linnehan was recently named the new head coach of the Cardinals’ top-ranked volleyball program, taking over for Steve Lapham, who stepped down after 29 seasons earlier this year.

A Stamford native, Linnehan coached at Westhill for 10 seasons, the last seven as the head coach, and turned the Vikings into a consistent contender in the FCIAC.

Linnehan, a teacher at Greenwich High, said making the decision to leave Westhill and join the Cardinals was difficult.

“It’s hard because I’ve built that program at Westhill and I love those girls,” Linnehan said. “I thought about it, what was better for my family, and I’m teaching in the building so I get to see the girls — they might be in my health class or my phys ed class — so just being on a more personal level with those girls and then being able to coach them will be awesome.

“I have big shoes to fill with Steve, but I think I’m the right person to do it.”

Pete Georgiou, Greenwich’s interim director of athletics, is the former girls volleyball coach at Brien McMahon and has coached opposite Linnehan and Lapham. Both earned high praise.

“When you have someone at one school for practically three decades, those are difficult shoes to fill,” Georgiou said. “Getting someone of Marianna’s pedigree is lucky for us and I’m really happy to have her as our next coach. She brings competitive fire, she’s been in highly competitive situations, and has had teams that have beaten the Greenwichs and Dariens in the past, and she’s been to state and FCIAC championship games.

“The future of Greenwich volleyball is great.”

Greenwich is coming off a 26-1 season when it captured FCIAC and CIAC Class LL championships, and finished as the No. 1-ranked team in the Connecticut Coaches Poll.

Captains Liana Sarkissian, the GameTimeCT All-State Volleyball MVP, Adele Sotgiu and Sophie Jones have graduated, but the Cardinals are still deep and have several veterans returning, including seniors Maggie Saleeby and Lucia Spanjol.

“I know them obviously from playing against them at Westhill, but I’m looking forward to getting to know them,” Linnehan said. “Steve has a structure there, I know that he’s built a great program and that those girls expect certain things within the program. I’m hoping that I can keep certain things that they’re used to, but bring me into that program.”

Linnehan played volleyball as a libero at Eastern Connecticut State University from 2004-06, earning Little East Conference Defensive Player of the Year and LEC tournament MVP honors, while establishing the program’s career record in digs.

She was an assistant coach at ECSU and Manhattan College for one season each, before joining the Westhill program under then-head coach Ali Walsh.

When Walsh left in 2015, Linnehan stepped up.

“When I came into that program, one of the other coaches in the FCIAC told me it’s going to take five years for you to start winning,” Linnehan said. “I looked at him and I said ‘I’m going to do it in three.’ And I did.”

The team was sub-.500 for two seasons before going 13-8 in 2017. During the next two seasons, the Vikings were 45-10 and reached the FCIAC final once and the state Class LL final twice.

“I came in with how I wanted it to be run, with stuff that I was taught in college when I played — structure, team bonding and all that stuff — and I brought that to Westhill,” Linnehan said. “The girls bought into the program and they loved it and they still talk about it.”

When Lapham retired at Greenwich, Linnehan applied for the Cardinals job.

“It was very hard for me,” she said. “When I applied for that Greenwich job I was crying, because I knew I had to tell the Westhill girls that I was going to be leaving. It was the toughest decision I could make.”

Current and former Westhill players have been reaching out to congratulate Linnehan.

“I’ve gotten so many good text messages from my Westhill girls supporting me and thanking me for the years,” Linnehan said. “It was nice to read to reassure me that they’re OK, they’re upset but they understand.”; @dstewartsports