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Volleyball team battles to even league record

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO All for one.

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO All for one.

On September 18, in the fourth consecutive home game of the season, the junior varsity and varsity volleyball squads thrilled the fans with victories.

The Southold/Greenport Clippers entered the gym in seemingly endless waves. Their JV squad was over a dozen athletes. The varsity, while fewer in numbers, dwarfed the our reduced squad of seven athletes warming up on the home side of the court.

JV Coach Laura Mayo couldn’t attend because of a conflict with a graduate course — yes, student-athletes exist at all ages! — but an injured Nichole Hand was helpful on the bench, recording statistics and offering advice during the varsity match.

The JV squad is coming along nicely, but as younger athletes, sometimes their play is uneven and serving becomes a large part of the game.

In the first set, the teams played evenly to 9-9. Then the Clipper libero brought her strong, consistent serve to bear and was able to string 8 points. We shifted serve receive and substituted players, but the 17-9 lead was too much to overcome and the visitors took the first set, 25-20.

This was disheartening since we had seen this squad in our first scrimmage of the season, and at that point they were a fairly weak team. But we’ve grown stronger as well, and responded in the second set.

Abby Kotula was able to score 6 points on her serve to give the squad a comfortable lead. Maria Carbajal has been growing as a setter, and now is counted on for offense as well. Emulating senior Sarah Lewis, she tipped the ball over when the opponents were expecting a set, getting us up 17-12. Amelia Reiter made a fantastic hustling save, and Lydia Shepherd consistently put up a solid block.

Our hitters are still working on getting available to receive sets, but we won the set 25-22, setting up a tiebreaker.
The crucial third set started slowly. Despite a Grace Olinkiwicz block and Jen Lupo’s great communication, the Clippers jumped out to a 2-10 lead. At the mid-set switch of courts we were still down 5-13, but the tide quickly changed. Bella Springer found her groove and steadily served 7 consecutive points to pull us back in.

The Clippers didn’t give up and kept chipping away until they held a 23-21 lead. Audrey Wood stepped to the service line with a tough task. A missed serve would put the visitors on the brink of a match win. But steady nerves prevailed and four serves later the jubilant Blue and Gray had made a massive comeback, snagging their second victory of the season, and evening their league record to 2-2.

The last time the varsity had seen the Clippers was just two days previous at the Pierson tournament. The teams had split, and junior Nichole Hand, our hardest hitter, had sprained her ankle later that day. Phoebe Starzee stepped up to the challenge of switching from her preferred right side hitting position to fill in for Nichole.

Phoebe has proven to be quite versatile — she has set, hit from the right side, and is now a go-to hitter on the left side of the court. Lyng Coyne has shifted from defensive specialist to right side. As a back-up setter she often is called on to handle balls.

As the set started, we began to work to get comfortable with our new lineup. Starzee scored the first of her five kills as she tipped a ball for a point bringing us to 9-6. The team began gaining confidence as Amelia Clark jumped to block an overpass.

Speedy Isabelle Topliff also began to score on her hitting. Up 20-14, the Blue and Gray relaxed and the Clippers charged back to tie it at 23-23 before the visitors’ consecutive errors allowed us to win the first set, 25-23.

During the second set things started clicking. Caitlin Binder had a crowd pleasing dive to save a tip and the team fed off her energy, cruising to a 25-16 win.

As we gathered for the third set, Jane Richards warned the team about letting down. “We have to win three sets,” Jane said. “We can’t get overconfident.”

Unfortunately, the warning didn’t stick. Tied at 11-11, the game suddenly was blown wide open by a strong Clippers server and eight consecutive Island errors.

Sarah Lewis stopped the slide with a tricky tip, and tacked more points on with her booming serves. We crept back to within 2 at 19-21 before a few more errors handed the visitors a 25-19 win.

Stung by the loss in set three, we buckled down, pushing out to a 23-8 lead in the final set. Unfortunately, once again a string of mistakes by us let the opponent score 7 points as we pushed to the end, 25-15.

Because the varsity roster contains a freshman and three sophomores, we are young. A priority for the team is working on mental toughness; pushing through the whole game, and not assuming a win is inevitable because we are on a run or close to 25. On the bright side, the group is flexible and willing to try new things.

Overall, both squads are getting better at knowing where to be on the court and how to react to different situations. We work daily on building skills, honing mechanics and establishing consistency.

As we face the challenge of five consecutive away games in the upcoming three weeks, we also look forward to seeing what this hardy band of players will bring to each match. Stay tuned!

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