In this day and age most volleyball teams have a starting seven, six positional players and a libero who can sub in for any back row player.
That’s exactly the number the Shelter Island varsity volleyball team had on October 8 as they faced the Center Moriches Red Devils.
When you have just seven athletes with one favoring a sore knee, one injures a thumb and one whacks an elbow hard, what do you do? Easy: Keep playing and have faith in one another.
Center Moriches had been a dominant team in Class C and League VIII in the mid-2000s, making it to the Class C New York State Final Four several times. They moved into League VII in 2012 where they’ve suffered some growing pains.
However, this year they’re on the rise again.
The Red Devils are tall and put up a mean block — a triple in the middle on some plays. Their floor defense also is good, scrambling to keep the ball in play, plus they serve well. We saw them in the Mattituck tournament on September 26. We beat them in the round robin, but at the end of a long, grueling day of play, they beat us in the finals.
After focusing on covering our hitters, we were much more prepared this time.
Junior and middle hitter Amira Lawrence skied in the middle, but the Devils knocked the ball back to our side. Teammates picked it up, and got it to setter Kenna McCarthy who shot it outside to Margaret Michalak for a kill. Kelly Colligan, the top kill-getter with 15 on the match, used her speed and good eyes to hit the ball off the blocker’s arms.
Using the steady passes from libero Melissa Frasco, McCarthy kept all hitters in the loop, and middle hitter Emily Hyatt scored on a sweet back quick which landed out of reach in a deep corner.
The team has been working on communication and on-court support of one another, coming together in the middle of the court to congratulate or support one another. But after taking the first two sets 25-22 and 25-18, the Blue and Gray seemed to rest on its laurels a bit.
Even though McCarthy spread her sets out, including all hitters in the offense, the Devils took the third set 25-22.
During the last set the Island girls started slowly, down 6-11, but went on run to tie the score at 12-12. The gym was loud, creating a playoff atmosphere. But Shelter Island had their fans too. Lawrence’s’s family was there, including older sisters TiTi and MeMe, both of whom played for the Blue and Gray.
She did them proud; going up for a hit she got blocked, but her teammates covered her and McCarthy set it back to her for a kill. At 15-15 Lawrence served 3 consecutive aces, giving her 7 aces on the day. But neither team was giving up, and it continued to be a point for point battle, with 12 ties during the set.
Colibri Lopez played right side. A versatile player and eager hitter she swung from the middle on serve receive and had a nice kill from the right side. Despite a sore thumb suffered on a block, she taped it up and served out the final points of the match.
It was exciting volleyball ball with an uncertain outcome, and it went down to the wire. As Michalak sealed the win 26-24 with a kill, this coach leaped from her chair in celebration.
The JV squad played well against the Red Devils with great defensive hustle. Unfortunately after winning the first set 25-15 and a nail biting loss in the second 28-30, they just couldn’t get their offense moving and lost the match with a final 15-25 set.
The following day both squads visited the Pierson Whalers. The JV squad had a great outing. With only six players available, everyone had to play their best.
The match started slowly for both teams. Setter Sarah Lewis, who has struggled a bit with her serve recently, put the first ball in the net. Undeterred, the team played on, with Nicolette Frasco making some kills as she followed Coach Jim Theinert’s advice to “flick the wrist” to add spin on the ball.
Ella Mysliborski came on strong at the end of the game, serving an ace to put us up 20-16, then putting up a great pass which Lewis set up to Phoebe Starzee for a kill, ending the set 25-17.
In the second set, Coach Theinert changed the rotation to put Starzee in the first-serve hot seat. The teams exchanged a few points, and at 4-6 Lewis stepped to the serving line again. 21 serves and 16 aces later, the set was over 25-6. She didn’t do it single-handedly though- Julia Labrozzi showed her burgeoning hitting confidence, putting down a kill.
With the match already won, the third set allowed more volleying and playing. The Islanders had a bit of a lapse and with communication errors adding up, found themselves behind 5-16. Coach Theinert challenged the team to focus on short-term goals.
Reaching the first goal of earning 10 points, they next put their sights on 17 points and continued a slow but relentless comeback. Excellent serving by Starzee was capped off by a Nichole Hand sprint to the end line to save a errant pass, putting it over for a kill and the sweep, 25-21.
The confidence in one another was fabulous and the tiny team of six was grinning ear-to-ear as they gathered for their post-match debrief.
With the support of Liz Larsen, who helped round out the squad when Margaret Michalak gave her sore knee a well-deserved rest, the varsity swept the Whalers 25-14, 25-8 and 25-23 to keep their undefeated league winning streak intact.
This coming week we have two matches: away at Hampton Bays on Thursday, October 15, and our last home match against second place Greenport the following day, Friday, October 16.
The match will be our annual Dig Pink breast cancer awareness fundraiser, along with our Senior Sendoff. Please come to the gym at 4 p.m., wear your pink and contribute to the Sideout Foundation, which raises money through volleyball-based events for research into Stage IV cancer treatments. Last year the team raised $500.
We would love to match that level again this year.
With six seniors on the roster, it will be an emotional night as they play on their home court for the last time. Starting at about 5:30 p.m. we will honor their contributions to the Shelter Island Volleyball program.