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Volleyball girls undefeated in league, clinch playoff spot

ELEANOR P. LABROZZI PHOTO | Amira Lawrence, #20, gets up and goes for the score Monday at home against Hampton Bays.
ELEANOR P. LABROZZI PHOTO | Amira Lawrence, #20, gets up and goes for the score Monday at home against Hampton Bays.

While the volleyball teams in League VIII are the same as last year, there have been some changes in the coaching ranks.

With new coaches come new energy, perhaps a shift in philosophy and occasionally a dramatic change in the level of play. In 2013, Coach Donna Fischer took the Pierson Whalers from one win the previous season to the Class D county finals. This season both Greenport and Port Jefferson have new head coaches and both have had a strong first half of the season.

On October 1 the Shelter Island varsity volleyball team took their 5-0-league record on the road to meet the 4-1 Port Jeff Royals. We had beaten Greenport, and Greenport had beaten Port Jeff, but the trip to Vandermeulen High School is a long one and traditionally Shelter Island has not played well in that gym.

Determined to start quickly, the Blue and Gray took the court with strong serving that seemed to shake the Royals. Despite one nice quick hit and a very nice block, they really seemed to be unnerved by the Island girls’ steady play and varied offense. Amira Lawrence came up big at the net with both hits and blocks, helping the Blue and Gray sprint out to a 7-0 lead. Unforced errors by the Royals made it tough for them to score and led to a 25-11 win for Shelter Island.

With defensive specialist Alexis Perlaki not present, Melissa Frasco stepped in to help on defense. Frasco has floated between the varsity and JV squads this season, adding a confident defender and nice down ball hitter whenever she’s on the court. Serina Kaasik is a quiet presence, but always manages to be at the right place at the right time. Emily Hyatt’s serve has come a long way as well. She strung several to get the 25-13 second set victory.

By the third set, with confidence brimming, Kenna McCarthy spread the offense well. Margaret Michalak was hitting well and earned a team-high nine kills. A 25-14 final score capped the match. With that victory, we have a 6-0 record in the league, guaranteeing us a .500 record and a spot in the playoffs.

Non-league games are great for learning and stretching ourselves as a team. Watching the warm ups against Hampton Bays on October 6 on our home court I felt confident that we could give them a good run, maybe even beat them. However, their non-stop, never-say-die defense is something we haven’t had a lot of experience against in League VIII.

Tall middle hitters who challenged our blocks, unconventional defense that included kicking the ball — yes, it’s legal, if uncommon — along with unexpectedly tight calls on sets, flustered the team a bit, and reduced the effectiveness of the new faster offense we’ve been working on. Our offense never really got cranking, and we lost 15-25, 20-25, 25-27 loss.

Despite the loss, I was very happy to see our total points creep up with each set. The final set had a very exciting finish. Trailing 17-24 and backs against the wall, Kelly Colligan got a kill, then headed back to the service line. Calmly she served her trademark bullets, while the Baywomen stumbled a bit with their hitting. With nerves of steel we won 8 straight points, pulling the team to a 25-24 lead as Andy Fotopoulos, the Hampton Bays coach, subbed players furiously, hoping to break our concentration.

Finally, a Margaret Michalak spike landed a hair’s width outside the back line, bringing the almost unbelievable comeback to an end.

The JV team also faced Port Jeff and Hampton Bays. With their numbers diminished by illness, the squad fielded only seven players for each match. This gives lots of playing time for the athletes as they stretch themselves to grow as players and learn new positions. The Port Jeff game was a back and forth battle as the Royals won the first 18-25, the Blue and Gray won the second 25-23, but dropped the tiebreaker 14-25.

Against Hampton Bays, the JV was faced with another challenge. With Jaime Castillo out, they had to adapt to a one-setter system on the fly. Sarah Lewis worked on becoming more assertive with her sets, while Liz Larsen and Nicolette Frasco have been honing their defensive skills. Phoebe Starzee’s tough serves and Julia Labrozzi’s hitting at the outside position is also coming along.

Issie Sherman has seen increasing success with her passing, and with the score at 23-24 she scrambled to save a ball and put it over to stave off the winning point. Genesis Urbaez has really stepped up as a versatile player, filling in at several positions. Hampton Bays took the match 24-26, 10-25 and 16-25.

At the end of the first half of the season the JV has an excellent 5-2 league record. Both squads start to see their league competitors for the second time this coming week, starting with Stony Brook here at home on Thursday, October 9. The varsity will be playing without two of their starters, which will test the flexibility and resolve of the team. Meanwhile the JV will be looking to avenge an early season loss against the Bears.

Come on down and cheer the home team on!