By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
Championships are tough to come by.
For some programs, despite all the right pieces in place, they can be downright elusive.
Entering the 2023 season, the Aurora volleyball team had its hand raised as affirmation for all of that.
Aurora introduced volleyball as a varsity sport in 1974 and have spent the last 50 years chasing that elusive league title.
Fittingly, in the program’s golden anniversary, history was also made.
With victories over Barberton and Highland this week, Aurora secured the Suburban League American Conference’s championship.
At long last, the Greenmen are No. 1.
“The pure joy of being part of the first volleyball championship in school history is like catching a glimpse of a dream turned into a reality,” first-year head coach Katie Cicione said. “It’s a feeling that will inspire our athletes for years to come and a moment that we will cherish forever. I’m immensely proud of each and every athlete, and I’m grateful to our school, parents and community for their unwavering support. It’s time that Aurora volleyball is put on the map.”
That map now includes a crown on West Pioneer Trail.
Aurora finished the season with an overall record of 14-4 — the best in school history — and the group posted a 12-2 record inside its division slate.
The first loss, a 3-0 sweep in the league opener by Revere on Aurora’s home court back on Aug. 29 became a turning point in the season.
Just five games into the season, Cicione sensed she needed to connect with her team following the loss.
“We came to the following practice and had a very tough and honest conversation with each other,” Cicione said. “We knew, obviously, that some parts of our volleyball IQ had to change, but we discussed openly that everyone can say they want to win, but we needed to decide right away what it was that was going to separate us from every other program in the conference. From that point, there was a huge shift in development.”
Aurora then rolled off league victories in 12 of the final 13 games, including redemption in a 3-1 victory over the Minutemen on the road on Sept. 21.
Throughout the run of success, Cicione found herself affirming what she had believed and knew since meeting with the team on day one.
“When I had the opportunity to first talk with our seven seniors in April of 2023, we talked about implementing a culture-first mentality,” Cicione said. “We wanted to prioritize a positive and supportive team culture as the foundation for our success. We have this magical connection that has turned just a group of athletes into a program that is an unstoppable force. You can feel the trust, the selflessness and the unity everyday.”
That unmatched level of communication and trust became the “winning ingredients,” according to Cicione.
Combined with some immensely talented players and suddenly the Greenmen were elite.
Senior Brooke Gecina, senior Ollie Salgado and sophomore Emerson Spiesz spotlighted a roster that was filled with talent and cohesion.
Gecina, an outside hitter, set a single-season school record for kills in a season.
“Brooke embodies the essence of a true champion,” Cicione said. “Her selflessness, unwavering work ethic and fearless pursuit of excellence is an inspiration to our program.”
Cicione pointed to setter Salgado’s shining self improvement as a player as a key to the season.
“Ollie was dedicated to becoming the best version of herself. It was not only inspiring, but also contagious. Her belief in herself radiated powerful confidence that uplifted and empowered everyone around her.”
An underclassman, Spiesz, the team’s libero, was never afraid of the moment.
“Emerson thrives under the intense pressure of competition,” Cicione said. “She doesn’t just endure high-stakes moments, she lives for them. Her ability to stay calm, focused and deliver when the heat is on is a testament to her mental toughness and the heart of a true competitor.”
With so much momentum within the program, it seems another 50-year championship drought is unlikely.
For this year’s team, though, celebrating inside their historic moment, while also preparing for the tournament, are the only immediate priorities.
“As a first-year coach with the program, I entered the preseason with an open mind and a belief in the potential of how special volleyball can be in this community,” Cicione said.
Step one has been taken.