The Xaverian H.S. and Fontbonne Hall Academy, both Bay Ridge, volleyball programs have carved out a competitive rivalry ever since Xaverian went co-ed in 2016.
It’s a friendly rivalry, since many of the student-athletes on the opposing squads are longtime friends and even play as teammates on the same club volleyball teams.
For one weekend in October, all talk of rivalries took a back seat to a cause more meaningful — yet still painful — to the Brooklyn volleyball community.
On Oct. 8, Xaverian hosted the inaugural Caileigh Duggan Shore Road Classic, a four-team volleyball tournament featuring the Clippers, Fontbonne, Sacred Heart Academy from Hempstead, L.I., and Midwood H.S.
The matches were played in memory of Caileigh Duggan, a former Fontbonne volleyball student-athlete who died unexpectedly this past June 10. Just 18 years old, Duggan — a vibrant Breezy Point native who was studying at the University of Tennessee to be a pediatric oncology nurse — had an undiagnosed heart condition. Earlier this season, Fontbonne retired Duggan’s No. 17 jersey.
In the tournament’s championship, Xaverian beat rival Fontbonne in straight sets. Yet it was the camaraderie and love for Duggan in the gymnasium — not the scores and results — that will be the main takeaways from this event.
Duggan, whose family attends Blessed Trinity parish, went to Visitation Academy for grammar school where she was awarded the school’s first-ever Character Award.
She then spent four years at Fontbonne playing volleyball: two on junior varsity and two on varsity. She was a member of the 2021 Bonnies varsity team that captured GCHSAA Tier 1 diocesan and city championship titles. Additionally, she was a team captain for her outside club team, Brooklyn Elite Volleyball Club.
“She was what I would consider an all-around player who you could put anywhere on the court,” said Linda Strong, Fontbonne’s athletic director who was Duggan’s junior varsity coach.
“She was always smiling, was always encouraging. If someone on the court made a mistake, she would be the first one to go over and make them feel better.”
Close to 400 people attended the daylong tournament to remember the positive impact Duggan had on all she encountered. As part of a newly established tradition, Xaverian will donate all funds raised to Fontbonne for the benefit of a rising junior or senior who plays, lives, and loves like Duggan.
“We want students to learn who Caileigh was,” said Marie McGoldrick, Xaverian’s head varsity volleyball coach who coached Duggan in outside clubs since sixth grade.
“She was an exceptional Christian and an exceptional human,” she said. “She was the happiest and hardest worker in the gym and made the conscious choice every day to live for other people.”
It’s been beyond challenging for Duggan’s family members and friends to wrap their heads around this devastating tragedy. What made the most sense to celebrate her life was through a tournament involving the sport she loved so much: volleyball.
“She brought a positive energy to the court,” said Emily McCartney, a junior setter on Fontbonne’s team who was Duggan’s freshman sister through the school’s mentoring program for new students. “She loved playing volleyball, so it was nice to do something that she loved in her memory.”
All four teams wore orange T-shirts with the tournament’s motto on the back: “Play like Caileigh. Live like Caileigh. Love like Caileigh.” The teams were all there for the same purpose — not to win but to play alongside Duggan’s spirit.
“It was a great way to celebrate her as a person,” said Julia Turchiano, a junior pin hitter and team captain on Xaverian’s varsity team. “Everyone who talks about her talks about how great she was and how great of a volleyball player she was, so it was great to remember her through a volleyball tournament in her name.”
By keeping Duggan’s legacy alive, there’s a sense of hope to brighten the darkest days. The tournament reminded the Brooklyn volleyball community of how much joy Duggan brought to the world and those around her.
When reflecting on Duggan’s story, please keep her family in your prayers.