BAINBRIDGE — At Bainbridge-Guilford High School, the name Selfridge and the word volleyball are practically synonymous.
As a result, over recent years Bainbridge-Guilford volleyball has become practically synonymous with winning.
The Bobcats are 17-0 this season, have not yet dropped a set in non-tournament play, and are headed to the NYSPHSAA Class D state championship this weekend to defend their 2017 state title.
Coach Tami Selfridge and her daughters, Erica and Abi Selfridge, are the driving force behind B-G’s recent success. But the familial bond over volleyball is much longer than the almost entire calendar year since the Bobcats last dropped a set.
“Before mom started coaching, she would play beach volleyball so we would always go. She'd drag us along to Keith Clark Park and we would sit there on the bleachers,” Abi said. “Then she started coaching so we would just come to practice and hit the ball around.”
Tami grew up in Cazenovia, New York and played college volleyball at Le Moyne College in Syracuse. When she moved to Sidney in 2006, she continued playing locally and began volunteering on the B-G coaching staff because her oldest daughter, Allison Roosa, was on the team. Twelve years later, she is in her fourth year leading the Bobcats’ varsity program.
The math may seem simple. A longtime player in the coaching role plus two athletically gifted daughters on the roster looks like an easy recipe for success. But as parent-coaches often discover, coaching your own kids can be challenging. Coaching two at the same time can pose even greater challenges, especially considering Abi and Erica’s differing personalities.
“Abi really likes reps. She likes to practice, she likes to perfect something when it isn't going right,” Tami said. “Erica just likes to go out and play a lot of times. Unless something is really broken, she won't really work on it.”
So yes, there is a sibling rivalry between these two very different players. Abi, a senior, brings a focused and technical edge to the game, while Erica, a sophomore, is a high-flying but laid-back athlete with extraordinary leaping ability.
“I feel like Abi gets a little more jealous than I do,” Erica said. “She always says stuff like 'I try so hard and you don't try at all. You're just so much better.' But it's not really true. I just go with the flow.”
“It is true. Even though she's so much more laid back,” Abi said.
On the court, the familiarity has only a positive effect. Ultimately, the stresses of playing together have brought Erica and Abi closer.
“They are just so good at playing together,” Tami said. “These guys fight, a lot, I mean they are sisters. Best friends one minute, then on each other the next. But when they're on the court, one always makes the other look good.”
“It (volleyball) has made us stronger. In volleyball season we are a lot closer than we are the rest of the year,” Abi said. “When we're playing on the court together, it's definitely not a rivalry, just working together. We've got a goal and we're teammates. We gotta do what we gotta do.”
While playing together has brought Erica and Abi closer, it also presents challenges for Tami. But by bringing a flexible amount of coach into her role as mom, she has been able to keep a healthy dynamic with her daughters.
“I feel like she lets us do our own thing. She is very good about that, in school too. Like 'If you want it, go for it and I'll support you at every point along the way. But if you don't want it I'm not going to try to make you want it.' That's her thing,” Abi said.
“So for me she'll bring me into the gym and serve to me for like an hour so I can work on passing. Erica is an amazing player but that's not what she wants. So mom isn't like 'Erica we gotta go to the gym, we gotta practice, we gotta be in the backyard.' It's what we want, she lets us dictate how far we want to be pushed.”
While Tami has balanced how much of a coach she is as a mom, all three have found it difficult to keep the mother-daughter relationship out of the gym. Erica and Abi agree that sometimes it can be difficult having their mother as a coach.
“I'm so used to her saying everything that half of the time I don't listen or I don't want to listen,” Erica said. “It's just hard to focus, I don't think about things before I do them. You feel more comfortable so you do stuff that you're probably not supposed to.”
So rather than fighting the family dynamic in the gym, the Selfridge clan has embraced it, extending the family to the players with whom Erica, and especially Abi, have grown up playing. Due to shifting organization in the B-G program and Tami’s movement to a number of different positions within it, she has coached some of the current seniors since they were in seventh grade.
Add in club volleyball, a team called Midstate that Tami coaches which includes several B-G players, and it’s not surprising that chemistry is a big advantage for the Bobcats.
“Part of why we were so good last year and this year is because we have just kinda moved up together,” Tami said. “We have been playing together as a whole, not just Erica and Abi, but we've been playing together for a long time.”
The result is a deep team with able players in every role. Abi, who on Thursday signed a letter of intent to play at Division II Clarion on a partial scholarship, puts up the gaudiest numbers. She leads the team with 229 kills, 515 assists and 162 aces. Erica follows in each of those categories, tallying 223 kills, 323 assists and 90 aces.
But other seniors carry the load in other areas. Zamira Caldwell leads the team with 35 blocks to go along with 148 kills. Makenzie Drown has 32 blocks and 107 kills, while Alexis Carr has recorded 132 kills. Marissa Cuozzo tops the team with 79 digs.
Caldwell is one of the players that has played for Tami and with Abi for six years. She said that like Erica and Abi, the familiarity between teammates has bred the opposite of contempt.
“There’s always some of that sibling rivalry, but there’s that with all of us because we are like family,” Caldwell said. “We don’t fight over who is first in the stats and everything, that’s not really what’s important to us. What’s important to us is winning the game however possible.”
This team has done plenty of winning, which is made more notable by the fact that B-G is not historically a volleyball power. Prior to winning the Midstate Athletic Conference in Tami’s second season (2016), the program had not won anything since a division title in 2008. A section title in 2002 was the only championship of any variety beyond the division in the program’s history.
The last three seasons have seen the Bobcats win three league titles and two section crowns in addition to this weekend’s chance at a second state title.
But this weekend is unlikely to be an easy walk to the state title. Section II champions Mayfield and Section IX winners Mount Academy will be the Bobcats’ first two matches in semifinal pool play on Saturday at Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls.
In its third match, B-G takes on Panama of Section VI. Panama was the last team to take a set off the Bobcats, winning the third set of last year’s state final before B-G won the title in four sets. The Panthers are also the last team to beat B-G, defeating them in pool play last year before meeting again in the final.
Like a year ago, the top two teams after Saturday’s pool play advance to the final on Sunday.
Abi and Erica predictably have different parts of the coming weekend that they are looking forward to most. But they both admitted to being nervous.
“Yeah we're nervous, man. But we just gotta go out there, play our game. If we can just have fun and be intense, and bring the energy, it’ll be fine,” Abi said. “I know we are a good team, we are capable of big things. We just have to put it all together and keep our fingers crossed.”
“I mean, it's hard to not be nervous,” Erica said. “You're so excited that you could win, you're playing volleyball and you get to stay in a hotel. Mostly that you get to stay in a hotel. And free food. I think it's just a fun experience.”
Tami looks at her daughters with both exasperation and amusement.
“Yeah. It’s definitely an experience.”