At the beginning of any sports season, there are always two important questions: Will the new players mesh well with the older players? What will the new leadership look like with the graduation of last year’s top athletes?
But in a small school like Shelter Island, there is an additional question: Will we have enough athletes to field both JV and varsity squads?
For the volleyball team, with the graduation of 6 seniors in 2016 and 7 more in 2017, Coach Laura Mayo and I were holding our breath to see what the numbers would be this fall. Luckily, 8th grader Bella Springer decided to “play up” at the high school level. We also got a boost from two former cross country athletes, sophomore Abby Kotula and senior Caitlin Binder, both of whom became outstanding defensive players for the Blue and Gray.
We started the season with 16 athletes, eight for each squad. There were only four upperclasswomen, three seniors and one junior, so the younger players were going to have to do a lot of learning and heavy lifting. They didn’t disappoint.
With the varsity, we started with good potential, but erratic execution. Often we would allow teams to make several point runs. It seemed we would get to 18, and stall, allowing the other team to make a run and take the set. But during the last half of the season, we were both physically and mentally stronger.
Instead of giving up big runs, we were the ones able to rally and come from behind. As a young team we fared fairly well against our opponents. In addition to beating both Greenport and Mercy, we took sets from every league opponent we faced, including undefeated Stony Brook, and Pierson, the second place team.
We also had a tremendous number of close games this season — an amazing 15 sets were decided by the minimum 2 points. In testament to the team’s growth and resiliency, in the first half of the season we won only two of the six close games, but in the second half we improved to four out of nine.
Our attacks grew more numerous as well as more successful over the course of the season. The team averaged 18.4 kills per match in the first half of the season, and 22.7 in the second half. We seemed to rise to the challenge of playing tough teams. In our October 20 Dig Pink match against Stony Brook, we had a season high 8 kills/set, 32 per match. The next highest were in our hotly contested Pierson matches, where we fired 7.5 and 6.75 kills per set, 30 and 27 per match.
During our last match against non-League Babylon, Nichole Hand and Sarah Lewis worked together to coordinate a quick attack, which is an advanced skill. That confidence in one another was a symbol of the growth of the team and the go-get-it attitude the team brought during the last half of the season.
We will miss our seniors. Steady and calm captain Sarah Lewis will leave big shoes to fill. Our primary setter, Sarah also had a much-feared serve, which she used to rack up a team-high 70 aces on the season, averaging 6.4 per match. She also had the second most number of kills on the team.
Classmate and captain Phoebe Starzee had pretty hands as well, and was a versatile hitter. She was also an excellent server. She owns a team best 91.8 percent serving percentage while also acing opponents an average of 4.6 times per match.
As a first year player, senior Caitlin Binder proved to be an incredible boon to the team. Her reliable serve was important, but it was her calmness under pressure and quick feet to get to balls which set her apart.
As the libero she was responsible to handling most of the first balls over the net, and she did so very well.
Junior Nichole Hand is already a leader on the team. She made a big jump in her skills and confidence from last season. She is the top hitter on the squad averaging 7.5 kills per match. Her crowd pleasing booming kills and excellent defense also inspired the team.
The four remaining varsity players all grew and learned. Sophomore Isabelle Topliff isn’t tall, but she’s feisty, and I admired her ability to learn and communicate with her team. Amelia Clark is tall, and has really come on as a hitter and blocker late in the season. Lyng Coyne packs a lot of enthusiasm and positive energy in her petite frame, and always gives 100 percent. Jane Richards, 9th grader, is incredibly positive and ready to learn.
Her embodiment of our “Play Well, Have Fun” mantra was a joy to see.
Coach Laura Mayo’s JV squad was a spirited group who faced injury and health issues this season, dropping their numbers from eight to the bare minimum of six at the end of the season. But their commitment never wavered, and every player grew and matured both in skill and enthusiasm.
There were four returning players and four newbies. Our sophomores led the charge. Maria Carbajal was our captain and a reliable super server, with over 93 percent success rate. Amelia Reiter, a tall lefty, is a natural setter, and budding right side attacker and blocker. Jen Lupo has inspired as a quick player who is the top communicator on the team.
Audrey Wood is one of the hardest workers on the team, with nearly perfect attendance at practice, and has emerged as a leading server. Newcomer Abby Kotula was a huge boon to the team. She led the team in service aces (69) and was counted on to handle the ball much of the time.
The 9th graders learned quickly, adjusting to new styles of play. Lydia Shepherd and Grace Olinkiewicz are both taller players, and eager to learn. Lydia’s willingness to step in as a setter when Maria was sidelined mid-season was a testament to her faith in her coach and her own abilities. Grace is already a confident basketball athlete, and it was a joy to see her volleyball skills bloom throughout the season. Both her serving and movement on the court became much more self-assured.
Bella Springer, 8th grader, impressed the coaches with her natural athleticism and ability to absorb and implement information. She will be a very good hitter and blocker next year.
As coaches, Ms. Mayo and I had so much fun watching the maturation on both squads. All the “little things” are now second nature: calling the ball, following the ball to the end line, covering hitters, mixing up our attack by using tips as well as hits. These habits and communication are so important. The comfort level with one another on the court was great, and we were so happy to see everything come together for this team.
The varsity’s last match was against Babylon on October 21, while the JV squad had its last match on October 24. The varsity squad was commissioned to lead the practice on October 23. I watched from the sidelines with pride as the more experienced players worked with the JV team to prepare them for the match.
Drills, fun team bonding activities and playing was the perfect last practice to end the season. I am always proud to be the coach of Shelter Island volleyball, but I felt my heart warm as I saw the strong and confident young players acting as role models for their teammates.
My personal goal as a coach is to help young women embrace their roles as athletes and leaders within the school community, and inspire the love of my favorite game. With Shelter Island Volleyball 2017 in the books, I am so pleased with our efforts and very thankful to the team which made coming to the gym everyday a joy.