“Is that an ambulance?” “I think it’s a fire truck.” “Do you think someone is hurt?”
No, it was the Shelter Island Fire Department waiting at North Ferry on Monday, November 3 to give the championship Shelter Island girls’ volleyball team an escort home.
The team had just returned from Suffolk Community College’s Brentwood campus in possession of its 11th straight Suffolk County Class D championship. You read that correctly — 11 County championships in as many years. To say they were thrilled with the fire department’s welcome is an understatement.
Upon entering the cavernous SCC field house Monday afternoon, the team was awestruck. Center court was set up with red bleachers rising high on one side. On the other side were the team benches and scoring table, including an announcer’s mike. A huge American flag dominated the wall and the large four-sided scoreboard over the court lent an air of professionalism. The spacious locker room, complete with a sauna, gave the girls a chance to calm their nerves, tie back their hair and muster up a little swagger as they readied themselves for warm-ups on the big stage.
Emily Hyatt, a wide smile on her face, exclaimed, “I’ve never been to playoffs before!”
Our opponent was familiar; the Stony Brook School is a league rival. We had beaten them twice during the regular season, but they’re a good defensive team. And in the postseason, anything can happen.
After introductions and the National Anthem, the teams took the court. Stony Brook seemed nervous, putting their first serve into the net. Shelter Island’s top server, Kelly Colligan, promptly extended the lead to 6-0 on five consecutive aces. With the game rolling along nicely in Shelter Island’s favor, our defensive specialists subbed in and out with ease, keeping assistant scorekeeper Genesis Urbaez on her toes.
Alexis Perlaki, who has been working hard on “hitting the floor,” dug up a Stony Brook attack, and completed a roll, a skill she has just acquired. Colibri Lopez chased down a deep hit, popping it up to Kenna McCarthy, who fed it to hard-hitting Margaret Michalak for a kill. Hyatt, a first year player, focused on her blocking and sent the Bears’ final attempt back to the floor to grab the first set 25-13.
The Bears had brought a good fan base, which chanted, “I believe that we will win,” urging on their team. The Island side of the bleachers was sparser, but with Superintendent Len Skuggevik and Director of Physical Education Todd Gulluscio in matching blue suede shoes and blue velvet jackets. Mr. Skuggevik was also sporting a blue wig and there was no lack of support for the Blue and Gray.
The second set started like the first. Despite a more concerted effort by Stony Brook, Colligan’s tough serves coupled with Amira Lawrence’s blocks and hits got the Island out to a 10-0 lead. Melissa Frasco’s fast feet and heads-up defense coupled with Taylor Rando’s steady serving, including two aces, helped the team to a 20-10 lead.
Serina Kaasik, as right side and alternative setter, also stepped in to help with a couple of errant passes. Liz Larsen, who played JV throughout the season, was asked to practice and play with the varsity team in the postseason. She got a taste of the big leagues, taking some swings on McCarthy’s well-placed sets and helped the team to a 25-14 win.
With the match playing out well, I mixed up our line-up a bit. Outside hitters Margaret Michalak and Kelly Colligan traded places. Stony Brook, down 2-0 in the match, started to vary their attack. After the Bears got out to a 6-1 lead, the tide shifted again behind Colligan’s serves and Michalak’s three towering, crowd-pleasing kills.
The Blue and Gray sprinted out to a 23-10 advantage before the brand-new game balls, harder and slicker than usual, began to give our players problems, resulting in several ball-handling calls. Stony Brook took advantage, pulling to 21 points before Shelter Island scored the final point to sweep the Bears 25-21.
After the traditional post-game shaking of hands, the team lined up on the court. The runner up plaque was presented to Stony Brook. Shelter Island team captains Taylor Rando, Kenna McCarthy and Kelly Colligan proudly accepted the Class D county championship plaque on behalf of the team and each jubilant member was called up to receive their individual plaques.
Following the presentations, the happy team gathered for photos. When I asked the players to hold up each of their index fingers to form an 11, Assistant Coach Jim Theinert speculated that we were celebrating the Section 11 (also known as county) championship. The incredulous look on his face was priceless: No, we were documenting the fact that this team won the 11th consecutive Class D county championship — over a decade of dominance in Suffolk County volleyball.
The team is set to enjoy their victory for the week as we prepare for the Southeastern New York Regional Final match. The winner of the match advances to the state final four in Glens Falls. Our opponent will be determined on November 4, and it is all but assured to be the defending state champs the Haldane Blue Devils.
Another school with a long and strong winning tradition, they feature the skills of a never-say-die defense and a 6’2” hitter who will be playing for Division 1 James Madison University on a full athletic scholarship. It will be a challenge to be sure.
Put on your blue and gray, bring your community pride and loud voices and make your way to the Suffolk Community College, Brentwood campus on Saturday, November 8 at 4 p.m. to support the team. Let’s go Blue and Gray!