Cornelia Roach Discusses Her Meteoric Rise To Division I Volleyball — And Much More

When you have an athlete that gives a verbal commitment to a Division I school to play volleyball just three years after starting the sport, you have a great story. Throw in that the subject stands 6-2 and is the oldest of eight siblings and there is no shortage of material.

Meet Cornelia Roach, one of the stars of the unbeaten Greenwich volleyball team. She picked up the sport by happenstance and has had a meteoric rise, leading her this summer to making a verbal commitment to play next year at Boston College.

Cornelia is also one of the most interesting people I have interviewed in some time, with a wide array of interests and great insights on all aspects of her life. So much so that instead of a feature profile I decided to present her story as a simple Q and A.

Here are excerpts of the interview that have been edited for brevity. (I am hoping I can get the entire conversation edited to be presented as a podcast.)

TRR: You didn’t start playing volleyball until the summer before your sophomore year. What was the impetus to try it?

CR: I was a horseback rider competitively for 10 years prior to touching a volleyball. I didn’t know volleyball was a thing you could do in school. I didn’t know anything about it. I was in aquatics and by some chance (Greenwich) coach (Steve) Lapham was my teacher freshman year and said you are too tall not to try out for volleyball. I said I ride horses and he said I’ll see you in August for tryouts. A couple months later it kind of came to a natural close with horseback riding. My horse I was leasing couldn’t really walk and it was getting dangerous. I said maybe I’ll take this summer to try some new things and branch out a little bit and become a more well-rounded person, if you will. I tried these volleyball camps and I was so horrendous. I couldn’t get the ball over the net from the 10-foot line. But the coaches were so amazing and they just made me love the sport. I tried out for the high school team, I made JV, I honestly don’t know how I made JV and then halfway through the season we went to a tournament and that’s when I got moved up to the varsity.

TRR: What happened after that to accelerate your development?

CR: Cat Dailey, who runs Northeast (Volleyball Club), gave me a call maybe right after the season ended and said we want you to come try out. The rest is kind of history. I went to Northeast, I kind of lived there, I absolutely loved it and that’s where I really fell in love with the sport. I am so grateful for coach Lapham telling me I was too tall to ride horses.

TRR: What was the hardest part of learning to become a better player?

CR: Oh my goodness, so many things. The hardest part for me was probably going into this new sport and just not knowing anything. I started kind of late, I was turning 16 while I was playing. I was on the court with (Greenwich teammate) Lilly (Saleeby), who was very encouraging, and I was just constantly feeling embarrassed. Like these girls don’t want me here. Some lanky 15-year-old with really long legs comes out of nowhere, she doesn’t know what she’s doing, so I definitely struggled. I had to go through the learning curve so many years after everyone else. Catching up and trying to get to that playable level to try and get on somewhat of a similar level as everyone else was definitely the hardest part.

TRR: Equestrian is probably not considered a traditional youth sport compared to others. Did you play any other sports growing up?


CR: A hundred percent. I think I played every single sport. At Greenwich Country Day, before I came to GHS, I played basketball, I played soccer, I played field hockey, I played lacrosse for a little bit, I played softball. I really played every sport. Freshman year at GHS I ran track in the spring with the close of my horseback riding career. I have five younger brothers and we are all just football nuts. We play just about every sport we can play in our backyard. We’re a very athletic family.

TRR: What made you decide on Boston College?

CR: So many factors went into the recruiting process that were so challenging. The assistant coach at BC was one of the first coaches I ever met at one of these recruiting showcase-type things. She is one of the nicest people on the planet and left such a lasting impact. I didn’t talk to them for a little time and then in February I was looking into schools and I was having a hard time finding a balance between decent size, not crazy big or crazy small, not in the middle of the city, not in the middle of nowhere. One of my best friend’s moms went to BC and I was talking to her and the more I looked into it I thought it was perfect. I come from a big Catholic family and it being a Jesuit school, and the more I looked into it the more it seemed like a great fit. I went on an official visit and met the coaches and the girls on the team and toured campus. It is the most amazing campus and it is right next to Boston, and I am super interested in finance so being next to a big city is great. I left, I got in the car and I said to my mom I don’t even have to look at any schools. Three days later the entire world went into shutdown and I did a lot of thinking about college and the mid to end of August, that’s when I committed.

Cornelia Roach goes up for a hit in a match against New Canaan. (Mark Conrad)

TRR: Is it hard to process that three years ago you were playing volleyball for the first time and now you are going to get to play at the Division I level?

CR: Absolutely. Absolutely. If you told me freshman year that three and a half years from then I’d be committed to a Division I school to play volleyball I probably would have looked at you like you had 10 heads. This is something that I am so incredibly grateful for. I am just so appreciative for all the people in my life, like my family and my coaches, at Northeast and Greenwich High School. I am so lucky to have experienced some of the most encouraging people and supportive people in my entire life. I mean on the court, off the court. They are there to help me, pushed me to be better, helped me through the learning curve…it’s incomprehensible. And my parents, dealing with my sports change, during quarantine my mom and dad would play volleyball with me in the backyard with my siblings.

TRR: What is the best part of being 6-2?

CR: There’s a lot of pros and cons. I used to not love being tall. It was something I was insecure about, which is another something I am super grateful to volleyball for. It has helped me become a much more confident person. Being tall is cool. I don’t know how to put it. Being tall is something I have been for my whole life. I don’t know anything different. Sometimes it was annoying. For a while I was clumsy, couldn’t really walk and didn’t know how to use my legs or my feet. Now I cannot walk in heels. I would probably look cool if I was 6-5 in heels. But it’s just not a skill I have mastered. It is awesome for my lifestyle. My brother is 15 and he’s 6-5, my other brother is turning 15 in a couple weeks and he’s 6-3. It’s great to compete with them in athletics. They can’t push me around. I get to maintain my dominance as the oldest child.

TRR: What is it like to be part of a family with eight kids and to be the oldest sibling?

CR: It’s definitely unique. When I tell people I have seven younger siblings their jaws usually drop. It is so fun. Granted it gets chaotic and it gets hectic and sometimes slightly out of control. But I have seven built-in, crazy personalities that I constantly find entertaining. Family dinners, which we started doing more of quarantine, which is great, and which we have carried on now that we are back in school, are the most fun. Ninety percent of family dinners I’m not even eating, just laughing at something one of my younger brothers or sisters has said. There’s always someone to talk to, someone to be with. It’s an experience that not many people get but I just love it. It’s so much fun.

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