As they starred as goalies in their respective sports of ice hockey, lacrosse and field hockey, three seniors at Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School in Washington were known for stopping goals, but as they prepare to move on to college, each netted a memorable personal goal of her own, as they were accepted and will study and compete at Ivy League schools.

On a recent afternoon, the three high school All-Met players sported their new schools’ sweatshirts and posed for photos holding their goalies’ masks and sticks: Gianna Meloni, the ice hockey goalie heading to Yale; Grace Rotondo, the lacrosse goalie going to Harvard; and Grace Brightbill, the field hockey goalie on her way to Princeton.

While in many sports, goal scorers often receive most of the glory, goalies provide the last line of defense and can help carry their teams to victory by blocking a barrage of shots by opponents. The three goalies, who when guarding their goals wear helmets, brandish sticks and are covered in protective gear, spoke to the Catholic Standard about competing in their sports, and being students at the historic school, which was founded in 1799 by the Sisters of the Visitation and is the oldest Catholic girls’ school in the 13 original states.

A life on the ice

Gianna Meloni jokes that she began playing goalie in ice hockey because “I was too lazy to skate,” but actually, she loves the speed of the game on ice. “It’s faster than other sports,” she said. “I can see the whole ice and see plays unfold.”

Meloni, 18, is the daughter of Toni and Robert Meloni, and she and her family are parishioners at Our Lady of Mercy in Potomac. She began skating at the age of 2 and playing hockey at the age of 3 because her older brothers Dominic and Christopher played the sport.

Her hockey helmet features a customized painting of a lion bearing its fangs, which she got when competing for her club team, the Washington Pride.

A big fan of the Washington Capitals hockey team, Meloni likes the mental aspect of the game, and she said what she has learned about staying calm in goal has helped her relax when facing other challenges, like tests at school.

She was recently one of 15 student athletes to receive the District of Columbia State Athletic Association Student-Athlete Scholarship, for her outstanding academic and athletic achievements.

Meloni said her favorite classes at Visitation were history and English, and she participates in the school’s Astronomy Club and Great Books Club, adding, “They’re pretty rad.” Outside of school, she is teaching herself how to play the harmonica and said she is “an avid hacky-sack enthusiast.”

At Yale University, she may study history or English. “I really like writing and English,” she said. Meloni also has the goal of someday competing in the new women’s professional hockey league.

Speaking of the impact that Georgetown Visitation had on her life, she noted the school’s slogan, “Be who you are, and be that well,” which is a quote by St. Francis de Sales, who with St. Jane de Chantal founded the Sisters of the Visitation.

Meloni said that at Visitation, “I figured out who I wanted to be.”

She added, “Community is a big part of Visitation. (The school) also teaches us to be individuals. Everyone has an individual voice, to come together for the community.”

‘A goalie is the unsung hero’

Grace Rotondo said she began playing lacrosse in the third grade, joining friends who started playing the sport. “As a typical new player, I tried every position, but fell in love with goal tending,” she said, noting that she began training with a Division One coach to learn and master the goalie position.

Reflecting on her sport, she joked, “There’s something about getting balls thrown at you that’s fun,” and she added, “I love how a goalie is kind of the unsung hero. We do play an integral role in the success of our teams, commanding the defense.”

Lacrosse involves a lot of scoring – “It’s really a fact of the game,” Rotondo said, also stressing the team aspect of her sport and the other sports with goalies. “The goalie is the last resort – the ball, the puck has to go through so many players.” 

Like her fellow goalies, she emphasized the importance of staying positive. “You can’t hang your head. You have to look to the next shot, and make the next save,” she said. “…The goalie position is so stressful. We have to deal with that stress every day. It definitely helps you with other facets of life.”

The U.S. Lacrosse All-American player competed for the USA team in an international festival in London and Edinburgh, Scotland, for women players under 18.

The 18-year-old is a member of St. Mary’s Parish in Alexandria, and is the daughter of Mary Ellen and Richard Rotondo and has a younger brother, Christian. Her outside interests include painting and photography, and at Visitation, she participated in the Spanish Society and Art Club, and was a student ambassador and raised money for breast cancer awareness.

One thing that drew her to Harvard was the community spirit she found there. “I felt like I could call Harvard my home,” she said. “That’s exactly how I felt when I shadowed at Visitation.”

Rotondo said that at Harvard, she might study neuroscience and perhaps someday pursue a career in medicine. “I’m really interested in the brain,” she said.

One thing she’ll take away from her experience at Georgetown Visitation, she said, is “how to be a leader. Lacrosse has given me an opportunity to be a leader on the field, and off the field as well.”

‘For the love of the game’

Like her fellow Visitation goalies, Grace Brightbill took up her sport at a young age. She started playing field hockey in the fourth grade and switched to goalie three years later. A college coach helped her develop her skills and style of playing.

Also like the other goalies, she has attained success playing for her school and for her club team, the Washington Wolves and has been a captain for both teams. Brightbill, who has competed for the under-17 Junior National Team, said that like many of her fellow field hockey players, she plays “for the love of the game.”

As a goalie, “you kind of learn not to take yourself so seriously,” she said, adding that “if you get scored on, you can’t hang your head.”  Along the way, she’s learned to “relax and have fun with the game, rather than focus on the shots (that have) gone in.”

Although she hasn’t decided on a major at Princeton, Brightbill said she might study at the university’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

At Visitation, she competed in the hurdles in track, played the flute in the school’s orchestra and was a member of its Great Books Club.

Now 18, she is the daughter of Tim and Ruth Brightbill and has an older sister Maddie and a younger sister Charlotte. Her family lives in Alexandria.

She said at Georgetown Visitation, she learned time management, balancing her schoolwork and outside activities. Brightbill, who is Presbyterian, said she especially appreciated the spirit of community at Georgetown Visitation. “You can’t walk down the hallway without meeting five of your friends,” she said, adding, “It’s a community of inclusion. You make friends with everyone you can.”

Moments goalies love

As they finished their interviews, the Georgetown Visitation goalies reflected on some of their favorite moments in goal.

Rotondo recalled how the best attacker on an archrival lacrosse team came racing down the field toward her. “She had a one-on-one and had so many fakes,” shifting her moves to try to get the goalie leaning the wrong way, and “I stuffed her!” Rotondo said, smiling.

Meloni spoke about the drama when an opposing player has a breakaway, “and it’s all on you… The moment you make the save. It’s like, ‘Ah!’ You’re on top of the world.”