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V’girls take big steps at ‘marathon’ tournament

ELEANOR P. LABROZZI PHOTO | Setter Kenna McCarthy placing one perfectly for her teammates in the Shelter Island varsity volleyball team's win against Mercy Monday .
ELEANOR P. LABROZZI PHOTO | Setter Kenna McCarthy placing one perfectly for her teammates in the Shelter Island varsity volleyball team’s win against Mercy Monday.

When I was a kid, there was a certain stereotyping involved in sports.

The slower baseball player was usually made into the catcher. The big kid always played on the line in football. And in volleyball, if you were short, you were the setter. All these crucial positions, perhaps not coincidentally, are underrated and under-appreciated by the casual sports fan.

I’ll speak about our setter this season, but also how the Blue and Gray, though maybe gaining in appreciation, still remains underrated when we go out of our league against the big teams.

On Saturday, September 27, the Shelter Island varsity volleyball team was up before dawn. Taking the 6 a.m. ferry, the girls took “mad artsy” photos of the sunrise, then settled into the waiting bus in Greenport for a trip to Eastport-South Manor School. They were headed to a tournament, a full day of playing against much larger schools, most with well developed volleyball programs.

As usual, Shelter Island was the smallest squad there. Eight players were suited up, but ready to make the best of their chance to play in the big leagues. Warming up by jump roping in the halls, their laughter attracted the attention of several other teams who joined in the fun of trying “Double Dutch.”

The marathon play by the girls throughout the day made me the proudest of the many team accomplishments Saturday.

Kenna McCarthy is our setter. She is not the shortest on the team, but she probably is the toughest. It is expected that every time the ball is on our side of the net, she will get to the ball and redirect it to a hitter.

That is a lot of responsibility, not to mention a lot of sprinting.

The day started slowly. We faced Bellport, the top team with a 5-0 record in League IV. Not quite up to speed, we dropped that match 12-25, 16-25. We then faced Smithtown West, a 3-1 contender in League III.

We were warming to the task and got a few more points: 20-25, 18-25. However, the tournament’s tougher serves and faster hitting kept us on our toes, and our offense wasn’t up to par. With more errors than kills it was tough to gain points.

But our defense kept us in the games, and we slowly brought up our level of play. Facing Longwood in the last match of “pool play,” I challenged the girls to play our game, and to turn it up a notch. They responded, coming back from a 10-15 deficit to seal the match at 25-17 and 25-19.

For the playoff round we moved on to the Silver Bracket, where we easily beat the William Floyd squad 25-11, 25-12. In the semi-finals we were up against Walt Whitman, who had a very tall and talented outside hitter, with a fine supporting cast of quick hitters and blockers.

That match seemed like a non-stop long rally, with both teams refusing to let the ball drop. Several times a team started to celebrate, thinking the point was over, but determined pancakes, rolls and emergency efforts kept the point rolling. The first set featured nine ties; the second had seven.

Unfortunately with only eight athletes, fatigue became a factor and we lost in an extremely close 23-25 and 24-26 match.

Amira Lawrence came up big with blocking. Facing a talented #11 on Smithtown West who was just crushing the ball, we rotated our lineup to match Amira against her. Emily Hyatt also is seeing success as a middle blocker, as well as increased confidence as a hitter. Alexis Perlaki is embracing her role as a defensive specialist and Colibri Lopez also gives us flexibility in resting front role players. She stood her ground against tough hitters, digging up high-speed missiles.

With Taylor Rando unable to attend the tourney, Serina Kaasik had the challenge of playing all six rotations as our opposite/right side hitter. She served well, the only error-free server of the day, and her calm demeanor on the court was great.

Margaret Michalak and Kelly Colligan are counted on to produce much of our offense, and after a shaky start, both started swinging with authority as McCarthy continued to provide them with great looks at the ball, even as the clock ticked toward the 8th hour of competition.

Genesis Urbaez also gave up her Saturday to attend the tournament and help take stats and manage the team. It was great to have her on the bench with me. She helped distribute athletic tape throughout the day, as sore thumbs, tender wrists and jammed fingers provided support and also made us to look tough and determined.

Our overall record for the day was 2-3, but wins were not the primary goal of the day. Confidence against harder hits, faster offense and tougher serves were what we were looking for, and we got that in abundance. Laughter on the ferry ride home, 12 hours after we set out, was testament to the bonding, growth and value of the day.

On Monday, September 29 both the varsity and JV teams swept Bishop McGann-Mercy 3-0 in our hot hometown gym. The JV team was missing both of its middle hitters, so Urbaez and Issie Sherman stepped up to Coach Jim Theinert’s challenge to play a new position. The squad’s trademark strong serving was key to the victory, and led the way to a 25-14, 25-16 and 25-14 win. The JV is now 4-1 in league play.

The varsity’s long day of playing at the ESM tournament seemed to have strengthened their faith in one another, and I was extremely pleased at the efficiency of their attack. We have been struggling with hitting errors a bit, but McCarthy has excellent setting instincts and our focus on spreading the ball to various attackers seems to be bearing fruit.

Taylor Rando also upped her game, serving a personal best 14 service points, six of which were aces. Despite some fine playing by Mercy, which is not evident in the scoring, the Blue and Gray easily defeated the Monarchs 25-12, 25-16 and 25-12.

The varsity squad is 5-0 in league play, with just the improving Port Jefferson Royals left to be seen in this first half of the season.