First volleyball loss ends season

DANIEL DE MATO PHOTO| Coach Cindy Belt talks strategy during a time out in the South East Regional semi final Playoff game at Center Moriches HS on Friday.

Tennis champion Steffi Graf once said, “When you lose a couple of times, it makes you realize how difficult it is to win.” It’s no fun to end a season with a loss, but when you play hard and are beaten by a better team there is no shame.
That’s the take-away for Shelter Island Girl’s Volleyball Team from its season-ending loss in its first playoff game to Haldane High School in the New York State’s Southeastern Regional semi-final. Haldane took match Friday in Center Moriches by a score of 3-0, with individual set scores of 23-12, 25-15 and 25-12,

For the Shelter Island team, it seemed like the movie Groundhog Day. In that 1993 comedy, Bill Murray finds himself reliving the same day over and over. For the Indians, we once again found ourselves facing the Section 1 champs, the Haldane Blue Devils, hailing from Cold Spring up along the Hudson.

The Blue Devils are a powerhouse. The defending Class D state champs, they also have two other titles to their credit. This fall they earned their 10th consecutive sectional title, and we tracked them closely, earning our 9th consecutive. We’ve faced them in regionals six times in the past nine seasons.

UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL

The school sent the team off in style before it boarded the bus to Center Moriches Friday, with a pep rally at the end of the day, both to celebrate the graduating seniors and to cheer the team.
We had scouted Haldane online and in person, knowing that we’d have to bring our very best to beat them. Warming up in advance of the match, we got to see the Blue Devils in action, up close and personal. We had talked all week about how difficult it would be to receive their serves, but it was quite another thing to see the velocity and movement in live action.

Adding to the uncertainty was our new line-up. Unfortunately, TiTi Lawrence, one of our key middle hitters, was unable to participate in the match. On three days notice, Morgan McCarthy transferred into the demanding role, and JV players Margaret Michalak and Logan Pendergrass split time at Morgan’s former post as outside hitters. Freshman Kelly Colligan and Kenna McCarthy, who have been practicing with the team, also were standing by as backup if needed.

Following player introductions and the national anthem, the somewhat intimidated but determined Indians stepped onto the court. The Blue Devils jumped out to a 6 point lead at the start, mainly on the strength of their serves. It was difficult to get a good pass, and despite Katy Binder’s fierce and focused pursuit of the ball, it was nearly impossible to set up our hitters with any of our best plays. While Haldane’s offense was not particularly tricky, it was quick and powerful. We keyed on Lauren Etta, the Class D MVP at the state tournament in 2011. She is both a hitter and a setter and a very experienced volleyball player being actively recruited by several colleges. Unfortunately, it took most of the first set to ramp up to the pace of the game and we dropped the first stanza 12-25.

During the second set we began to show some success on our game plan. Alexis Gibbs and Saverina Chicka form an intimidating block, and they started to deny Etta any easy kills, pulling the score to 3-4 in the early going. Recalibrating, Haldane shifted gears and pulled ahead again. Margaret Michalak, belying her young age, smartly dumped a ball to the back corner for a point. Still a bit back on our heels, the blue and gray was inspired by Erin Colligan’s hit down the line to pull to 10-20. Then we went on a 5 point run, forcing Haldane to call a time out; a moral victory. The Blue Devils responded to their coach, and put libero Jayme Clark in the hot spot. Even her dives were little match for the aggressive serves and hits, and we lost the second set 15-25.

DOWN TO THE WIRE

The third set we knew we had to do something a bit different. Logan Pendergrass got her first true varsity start, and her calm demeanor helped steady the court. Morgan McCarthy, Gibbs and Chicka kept the pressure on with their persistent blocks. MeMe Lawrence hustled all over the court, making diving attempts to keep the ball in play. Melissa Ames made an appearance in the backcourt to change the look of our serve receive and helped break a Haldane 4 point streak. Etta first adjusted her hitting to a sharp cross court angle, and finally gave her setter a “stop-setting-me” signal as our blocks began to rattle her. At 14-14 the Blue Devils called a time out, but we continued our pressure. With the score tied at 18-18, Haldane made their move, responding with 3 point surge. Tara Sturges came into the game, and immediately got served. Calm and poised, she made a nice pass to Binder, and we got out of that rotation. Still, Haldane is a well-oiled machine and using their many offensive options they kept the pressure on, taking the last set 25-21.
I expect that Haldane will be in the state finals again this year. It is great to see the level of play a small school can rise to, and I wish them the best of luck.

HONORS FOR ALL

At the school rally before the bus to the match, the seven seniors were presented with roses, and I had a chance to highlight each senior’s contribution to the team by presenting each an individually crafted medal.
Melissa Ames was dubbed “Speedy Gonzalez” for her super-quick feet and ability to get to the ball.
Tara Sturges was our “Brainiac,” since she always knew when she should go in, and where to be in the lineup, keeping this coach on target and being my brain.
Saverina Chicka, who has developed into a fearsome hitter and blocker was our “Tower of Power.”
Morgan McCarthy, a versatile and unselfish player, received the “Team Above Self” award.
Jayme Clark, the brightly clothed and aggressive defensive player who loves to roll and dive on the court was our “Roller Derby Queen.”
Alexis Gibbs, a dedicated player who hopes to play in college, received our “Queen of the Court” award.
And Katy Binder, a rock-solid and positive player was our Rosie the Riveter for her “We Can Do it” attitude and leadership.
As the season draws to a close, I know I will both enjoy the hours per day I will gain in my schedule, but miss the lively company of teenage girls learning and enjoying the sport I love. It has been a pleasure working with the 2012 edition of Shelter Island Volleyball. Their season is now part of school history, and as undefeated league champs I hope they will remember it fondly and carry the pride of this accomplishment forward into their lives.

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