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Island volleyball teams bounce back with wins

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO  The shleter Island volleyball players practicng Monday for an upcoming match against the Pierson Whalers on Wednesday, September 13. From left, Bella Springer, Audrey Wood and Jane Richards.
The Shelter Island volleyball players practicing Monday for an upcoming match against the Pierson Whalers on Wednesday, September 13. From left, Bella Springer, Audrey Wood and Jane Richards.

The Shelter Island volleyball teams have been in the gym since August 21, so being in school wasn’t new.

However, they brought a stepped up attitude to the court September 6, the first day of school when the visiting Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs arrived.

Mercy is a program on the rise, and both squads beat us twice last season.

Our JV squad is markedly improved from their first days in the gym, but when serve/receive goes wrong, it quickly turns into a tough situation. The first set started with Mercy’s top server rattling the Blue and Gray, sparking the visitors to a 6-0 lead.

Once we settled down, our own servers had some wins, including steady serving by Jennifer Lupo and an ace by Audrey Wood. But the real highlight was when team captain Maria Carbajal served the team from a 13-20 deficit to a 25-20 win.

Lydia Shepherd showed her growth as a player in the second set as she passed balls to setters Amelia Reiter and Carabajal, allowing us to run a three touch play. Reiter has improved her blocking timing tremendously, and with experience of blocking varsity players, is much more confident.

However, Mercy ended up with a 25-19 win in the second stanza, setting up a tiebreaker.

Coach Laura Mayo reassured the team she was confident in their skills and sent them out for the final set with the traditional “Together!” cheer. Grace Olinkiewicz drew applause from the fans as she reacted quickly to pick up a Mercy tip over the net. Abby Kotula was also impressive in the win with quick reactions and steady serving. Bella Springer impressed with nicely timed blocks in the middle.

In a tie-breaker, the teams switch sides of the court at 13. The Island girls were ahead 13-4 at the switch. Mercy didn’t give up, inching closer in the second half of the set. But Carbajal and Kotula made defensive diving plays and Reiter served up an ace. The final score of 25-17 gave the JV squad their first match win since 2015, and cheers rang all around.

Following the JV win, the varsity stepped onto the court. After last week’s so-close loss to Port Jeff, the team was ready to prove it has what it takes to beat a larger school.

The match started well with Jane Richards assertively calling for a ball to be set to the middle, putting Mercy on notice we planned to run a mixed offense. Isabelle Topliff was also vocal and teamed with Richards for a double block, foiling the Monarch’s hitters. Sarah Lewis used her high volleyball IQ, aiming her serves at the weaker passers, then targeting a new player put in as a substitute.

Overall we put in a good effort, but we needed to do more as Mercy took the first set 25-21.

This early in the season we’re still flexible with lineups. Because of a big opponents hitting ability, I flipped middle blockers Jane Richards and Amelia Clark. This forced the Mercy player to hit against a taller block. It looked good on paper, but the switch seemed to throw us for a loop. The Monarchs jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead.

A multitude of hitting and serving errors later we were handed a 25-9 defeat.

Volleyball is a game of momentum and the team looked dispirited. Mercy looked confident, but we went back to work. By focusing on one point at a time, we began playing more evenly. Lyng Coyne’s energy sparked the team. Phoebe Starzee consistently served tough balls, forcing errors. By the end of set three we were back in a rhythm and took it 25-17.

With building confidence, the Blue and Gray jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the fourth set. But the Monarchs put together a run to pull ahead 14-11. We fought back with Nichole Hand notching a couple of kills from overpassed balls, forcing Mercy to call a timeout down 14-16.

I suggested we get a few more points on this current run. Caitlin Binder piped up, “Let’s get 9.” She wasn’t far off, as Sarah Lewis’s booming serves got us close, and Phoebe Starzee’s inspired hitting pushed us out to a 25-15 win.

Varsity teams play the best of five, with three set wins needed to take the match. The tiebreaker started with the Island girls with a six point lead, 16-10 at mid-set. But Mercy didn’t rest, and after a timeout, down 19-24, they crept back to 23-24 before calm playing and a heads-up tip by Starzee ended the match 25-23 for our first win of the season.

The gym exploded with cheers. The joyful group circled up in the corner rejoicing in the terrific comeback and newfound faith in one another. The team seems to have developed tougher skin and simply gelled a bit more. I am so proud of their effort.

We didn’t know it, but avid sports fan and “volleyball angel” Jack Monaghan passed away that afternoon just before the matches. For years he has shared with me his insight, pithy comments and praise for the athletes and program.

A quiet, behind the scenes supporter, Jack allowed many athletes to receive team sweatshirts, camp scholarships or new shoes without fanfare or acknowledgment — just the way he wanted it. We will miss him dearly but are certain he will continue to cheer for “his kids” and will now always have the best seat in the house for our games.

We have two home matches in a row against the Pierson Whalers on Wednesday, September 13, and the Greenport/Southold Clippers on September 18, before we start a long road trip.

Come catch the action!