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V-Girls lose to powerhouse, gain a rival’s respect

Courtesy PHOTO |  Shelter Island volleyball team jerseys set out before the southeastern regional match Saturday in Brentwood. Coach Cindy Belt wrote: “The jerseys were lined up on chairs during warmups. I like the statement it makes — "We are here to play."

COURTESY PHOTO | Shelter Island volleyball team jerseys set out before the southeastern regional match Saturday in Brentwood. Coach Cindy Belt wrote: “The jerseys were lined up on chairs during warmups. I like the statement it makes — “We are here to play.”

Both Shelter Island and Haldane entered the Southeastern New York regional volleyball championship match on November 8 with statements to make.

Shelter Island, the underdog, was determined not to be underestimated or taken for granted. Haldane, the defending state champ and with a history of post-season success was seeking respect. As things played out, both teams got each other’s messages loud and clear.

Last year, despite a dogged Shelter Island effort, the Blue Devils cruised to a 3-0 win over the Blue and Gray on their way to capturing their fourth Class D state championship. This year as the favored Blue Devils entered the Suffolk Community College’s Brentwood campus fieldhouse, they expected only token resistance from the Blue and Gray. They were wrong.

The match took place directly following the boys volleyball championship in which powerhouse Sachem East defeated Plainview. We had arrived early and enjoyed the large, raucous crowd and inspirational hard hitting. Haldane also appreciated the warm-up act, but appeared to be a little out of sorts at the start of the match. The large venue and a long bus ride, perhaps coupled with a preconceived notion of what to expect from us, led to a slow start. Possibly due to nerves, Shelter Island also didn’t have a stellar beginning.

Our game strategy was to serve tough, avoiding their best passers and, whenever possible, put the ball to the back row setter, forcing other players to handle the ball. We had also modified our rotations to match up Amira Lawrence, our best blocker, against their big 6’2” hitter, Kelly Vahos. That meant our servers were a little out of rhythm and it wasn’t until both teams got a feel for the vast venue that the game started rolling.

Haldane got out to a 6-1 lead on a couple of Island serving errors but then we warmed to the task. Margaret Michalak served tough and with the help of Kelly Colligan’s hits and Emily Hyatt’s work at the net brought us from being down 6-9 to ahead at 12-9, prompting a Haldane time out.

Knowing the Blue Devils would respond to their coach, we reiterated the need to play smart defense while continuing to attack as much as possible. Lawrence took that advice and ran with it, getting a kill off a nice set from Kenna McCarthy to go up 14-13, then jumped high to get a piece of the ball against a Vahos swing. Two points later Lawrence roofed their star player, blocking the ball and leading directly to a point for the overjoyed Blue and Gray.

However, Haldane wasn’t done yet, and hung with us until McCarthy served four straight points. Up 24-20, we could scarcely believe we were on the edge of beating our nemesis. Unfortunately, that disbelief may have been our undoing. Stringing together tough serves, smart tips and hard hits, the Blue Devils came roaring back to steal the first set 26-24.

Expecting a full-on attack by the Devils in the second set, we looked one another in the eye, squared our shoulders and went back on the court and jumped out to a 6-2 lead, extending that to 12-4 on the strength of Lawrence’s sic point serving run. Melissa Frasco rose to the occasion of the big game and made several speedy runs to track down deflected balls. Seri Kaasik became the de facto setter as smart placement of the ball forced McCarthy to play defense instead of set.

However, McCarthy gave as good as she got when she aced their normally unflappable libero, then drove an expertly placed tip to the floor. But again, Haldane was able to respond to the strong urging of their coach. Two consecutive Island missed serves late in the set caused us to lose momentum, and the Blue Devils came back to win, 25-21.

By the third set, fatigue became a factor. McCarthy dug deep and shot faster sets to Colligan and Michalak to try and beat the blockers, but it wasn’t to be. Haldane started hitting harder, funneling much of their offense through Vahos, although the entire Blue Devils team contributed to the effort. Taylor Rando, Alexis Perlaki and Colibri Lopez each dug in on the back row in an effort to slow the Haldane offense.

Smart tipping frustrated the Blue and Gray. We just couldn’t connect on any consecutive points and our season ended with the final score of 25-7.

Over the years, Haldane and the Island have evolved a sort of mutual admiration society. Haldane, still a Class D at nearly five times our size, marvels at the consistently good teams that emerge from our tiny school. On the other hand, we take notes on their creative lineups — having setters doing double duty as hitters and really playing to the strengths of each athlete.

Haldane will continue their season at the New York State Final Four this coming weekend, hoping for back-to-back state titles. While the Blue and Gray will not be playing in the championships at Glens Falls this year, a contingent is still planning to go up to see the tournament. With high hopes for an even more successful season in 2015, we want to see for ourselves the pageantry and big stage that may await us next fall.

We will lose two players next year: Our sole senior, Taylor Rando will be graduating and Alexis Perlaki will be transforming to our team manager. However, with a majority of returning players the future is bright.

With a 6th straight undefeated league title and 11th consecutive county championship in hand and terrific memories of both hard work and laughter, the volleyball athletes will now morph into basketball players, cheerleaders and club volleyball players. However, they will be working throughout the next year to make their dreams of an upstate trip, in uniform, a reality.

This is a great group of kids, and as Haldane will admit, it doesn’t pay to underestimate them.

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