The news of Christina Volpe’s death Monday in South Carolina has stunned not only her former high school basketball coach and teammates, but additional people connected to Batavia Notre Dame during the late 1990s.
Volpe was 34.
The Section V Basketball Hall of Famer led Batavia Notre Dame to the school’s first girls basketball state championship in 1999.
Volpe suffered cardiac arrest at her home in Greenville, S.C., according to her sister, Annemarie Sheppard, of Rochester. The cause of the heart’s stoppage is unknown, Sheppard said.
“They just don’t know,” Sheppard said of the doctors. ”She was healthy, worked out four times a week. Never had anything physically, so it was very out of the blue, shocking.”
Michael Rapone, an assistant principal, athletic director and longtime coach at Batavia Notre Dame, watched Volpe and his daughter Melissa, move through the small, private school in Genesee County, as good friends before their graduations in 1999.
“She really was a special person, a nice person,” Rapone said. “I don’t like to talk in absolutes, but I can say that she is the best female athlete we’ve ever had.
“I’m kind of numb.’’
Volpe starred in volleyball and basketball. She led the Fighting Irish on a historic run during her senior season, as Batavia Notre Dame also became the only girls basketball team in Section V history to go on and win a girls state Federation title.
Batavia Notre Dame graduate Mike Scanlan and two of his friends were asked to practice with the school’s girls basketball team that season, playing the role of the next opponent — and Volpe was a tough forward to guard.
“I remember as a kid, not even in high school, being in awe of her,’’ Scanlan said. “In school, she was a nice person, huge smile, someone I looked up to as a great athlete and a great person.’’
Scanlan said he was not the only middle school- or any other student who looked up to Volpe.
“She really embodied the Notre Dame spirit, we’re all in this together,” Scanlan said. “It’s a huge family.”
Margaret and John Volpe taught at Saint Joseph Catholic in Batavia, before retiring recently. Dominic, 38, Annemarie Sheppard and Christina Volpe — their adopted children — all were students in their classes.
“Their rooms were right next to each other’s,’’ Annemarie Sheppard said.
Volpe, listed at 5 feet-11 inches as a senior, averaged 23.5 points and 15.8 rebounds during Batavia Notre Dame’s 25-1 championship season. A two-time All-Greater Rochester first-team selection, she was named the Class D state player of the year by the New York State Sportswriters Associatio and, finished fifth among Section V’s all-time leading scorers with 2,392 points.
Former Batavia Notre Dame girls basketball coach Bill Wade calls Volpe a legend at the school, without hesitation. Volpe was inducted into the Section V Basketball Hall of Fame four years ago.
“She was our leader,’’ Wade said. “What separated her from every other athlete I’ve coached, is she simply refused to lose. It was an excellent attribute.’’
Wade laughs about how much statistical double-doubles are celebrated these days, as he points out that Volpe played 77 games with him as coach and produced the feat 77 times.
“Everyday you had the same attitude from her, whether it was a practice or a game,’’ Wade said. “I had three years of joy coaching her.’’
Volpe starred at Monroe Community College and Roberts Wesleyan College, averaging 12.6 points as a senior at Roberts in 2002-03. She was named MVP of the Chase Scholarship Basketball Tournament as a junior in 2002. She earned her master’s degree at Converse College in Spartanburg, S.C., and also served as a graduate assistant coach for the Converse women’s basketball team.
Volpe has a seven-year old son named Maddox.
“He’s very much into baseball, and just joined a basketball team, which would make Chrissy really proud,’’ Annemarie Sheppard said. “She was always texting his stats.
“It’s really been just the two of them in South Carolina.’’
Volpe spent the last 10 years or so building a good-sized base of customers and introducing products as a wine sales representative.
‘She’s always been quite the salesman,’’ Annemarie Sheppard said.
There is a memorial service for Volpe on Thursday in South Carolina. Her ashes will be brought back for a service in Batavia, yet to be scheduled.