FREDERICK, Md. (BVM) — The Maryland School for the Deaf (MSD) girls volleyball team ended last season with an overall record of 21-12-1 and finished second in the Maryland Independent Athletic Conference (MIAC).
The team communicates in American Sign Language (ASL) on and off the court since head varsity coach Christine DiMarco and every single player on the team is deaf. DiMarco acknowledged that the team does not have to work any harder than the hearing schools they verse in their conference.
“Focus is key here. No noise to distract,” DiMarco wrote to us. “Deaf people react more quickly to objects than most hearing people.”
DiMarco addressed that many of her players are skilled with serve-receive and reacting to freeballs because being deaf allows them to optimize their vision more than their hearing counterparts do. Last year, she saw tremendous improvement from the beginning to the end of the season which led to a number of players earning accomplishments for themselves.
In 2019, senior Ariella Zfati broke the school record for most digs per match (35) and per set (14). Senior Sascha Tansky led the team in assists with 411, followed by junior Crystal Salit with 270. Sophomore Citrine Lummer ended last season with 406 kills, 277 digs and 42 aces.
Senior Milana Bielucke, junior Hannah Weiss and Lummer were awarded the 2019 DeafDigest Sports Volleyball All-American Honors. Lummer was also named to the MIAC All-Conference first team while Bielucke and Tansky were named to the second team.
Lummer and Bielucke were also named to the National Deaf Interscholastic Athletics Association (NDIAA) first team. Weiss was named to the second team and Tansky was named as an honorable mention.
But after coming off of a high following a successful 2019 season, DiMarco admits that she and the team were disappointed that the pandemic forced their 2020 season to be postponed. She stated that they are not even allowed to practice because of strict building rules, all while other teams in the area are competing.
“We already lost our league, the majority of schools in our league were able to compete except for ours,” DiMarco wrote. “I’m hoping to have a volleyball season if we can find a good number of teams to compete with this spring.”
Along with the season being postponed, even SpikeOut, a yearly tournament held for different deaf institutions around the entire nation, was canceled. This was a sad discovery for the team since DiMarco believes they had a good chance of winning it all this year.
DiMarco knows that when the time comes they will come back stronger than ever, simply because of the girls’ drive to learn and improve. After being named the 2019 NDIAA Division I Volleyball Coach of the Year, DiMarco has proven that she is a huge reason for why the team performed so well last year, although she does not want to take full credit.
“I was fortunate to have a great group of players who were hardworking and extremely coachable,” DiMarco said. “They seemed to readily accept corrective feedback and embrace ‘team’ in everything we do.”
Until the team can compete against others once again, DiMarco admits that being an all-deaf team is not a challenge when it comes to facing their opponents, but what can be difficult is communication with the referees.
“One of our unique challenges is communicating with hearing officials prior to and during the game when a specific call is made that we disagree with,” DiMarco wrote. “We actually have a hearing official who happens to know ASL that makes things easier, but she’s not always there. It’s a hit or miss.”
With an uncertain upcoming season, the team is trying to keep their positive attitudes. Some are playing club volleyball to keep up their skills and a handful of seniors are looking forward to playing at the collegiate level. DiMarco stated that one senior is considering committing to play volleyball at Gallaudet University, an NCAA Division III program and school the accommodates deaf students. Two other players on the volleyball team are already committed to playing basketball and track at Gallaudet.