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Volleyball teams battling for every point, scrapping for every set

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO At the net, fighting for every point, #12 Lyng Coyne, #5 Isabelle Topliff and #19 Amelia Clark,
At the net, fighting for every point, #12 Lyng Coyne, #5 Isabelle Topliff and #19 Amelia Clark,

The mantra of the Shelter Island School volleyball teams is to “play well and have fun,” and another focus is “progress, not perfection.” The team has taken both of those to heart.

Over the past two weekends the varsity team has attended two separate tournaments.

The very competitive Eastport-South Manor tourney on September 9 featured perennial powerhouses like Ward Melville and Sachem East. While literally out of our league (we were the only League VIII and Class D team there) we put together some nice offensive and defensive efforts, gaining a confidence that we could compete with teams much larger than us.
The September 16 tournament at Pierson featured teams closer to our size, and seeing familiar teams with similar playing styles was fun.
The team had a blast cheering for friends on the Pierson Whalers as they battled larger teams, and had tons of fun during the lunch break dancing to music and participating in a Hula-Hoop contest.

The tournaments also were a great chance for JV players to get playing time on a varsity court as Bella Springer, Audrey Wood, Maria Carbajal and Amelia Reiter contributed to the effort.

In our league games, we’ve opened the season with a home stand. The third consecutive league match was held on September 13 against the Pierson Whalers,the defending League VIII champs, and although they lost a fair number of seniors, they still have a good crop of athletes. Similar to the Island, they have small squads, with only eight JV players and nine on varsity.

The varsity match showed that we’re improving both individual skills and overall as a team. During the first set the teams played evenly until Caitlin Binder served the final 5 points in a row.

Sarah Lewis, who normally contributes through setting with assists, is reveling in hitting, gleefully killed an over pass. The Island took the first set, 25-19.

The win seemed to spark overconfidence. However, for the most part, the second set was evenly played. Isabelle Topliff showed her increasing court sense tipping the ball to the unprotected center of the court — a smart way to win points. Amelia Clark covered Phoebe Starzee as she got blocked, then popped up the ball, allowing Sarah Lewis to register another kill. Unfortunately, a little lack of focus and urgency allowed the Whalers to take the second set, 25-22.

The third set was a battle. Pierson got out to a quick 5-0 lead on the strength of their setter’s serving. Starzee strung 6 points of her own to get us even at 14-14. The team looked great in the rallies, with terrific defensive efforts by Nichole Hand and Lyng Coyne.

The set went “extra innings,” with the Whalers winning a 28-26 nail biter.
Stung, the Blue and Gray jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the fourth set, but Pierson answered right back. Jane Richards’ blocking is improving, and her consistent net presence let the home team build a 15-10 lead. But once again Pierson was able to string points together, finally taking the set and match, 25-22.

As we circled up after the match, disappointment was mingled with pride. Many points featured hard fought rallies — it was great to see “real volleyball” being played on both sides of the net.

We’re seeing a trend of the number of kills (spikes) increasing. Thirty of our points in the Pierson match came from our offense, over twice the kills in the Port Jefferson game on September 1. We also had double the number of service aces with fewer errors. Nichole Hand had 10 kills, while Sarah Lewis impressed with nine kills and nine aces.

The junior varsity also had a nice match against the Whalers. Each JV player is proving to be serious about improving herself. The entire team is eager to learn, increasing their volleyball IQ every day.

As the match started, good communication was key. Many more pass, set, hit combinations were attempted. Jennifer Lupo’s encouraging voice kept the team on their toes. Unfortunately, our normally consistent serving was off: Nine serve errors allowed the Whalers to take the first set, 25-20.

The second set featured better serving, with Amelia Reiter and Maria Carbajal showing confidence as they stepped to the line. Audrey Wood’s increasing defensive skills were put to the test on a hard-driven ball, which ricocheted off her cheek, but since it was a legal hit, her teammates kept playing, winning the point.

Shaking off the surprise shot with a rueful grin, Wood bounced right back. The back and forth action continued with Pierson taking the set. 26-24.

The third set again showed our progress. As particular servers stepped to the line, calls of “short serve, move up” sounded. Abby Kotula, the team’s top passer, obliged.

Recognizing server’s tendencies and adjusting in advance will pay dividends as the season progresses. Bella Springer is getting the hang of transitioning to hit and Lydia Shepherd is much more self-assured on the court, taking passes with her hands, a more advanced skill, while Grace Olinkiewicz is showing nice blocking instincts.

While Pierson took the last set, 25-22, there was a consensus between the coaches that while the Whalers outscored us, we actually outplayed them. We’re looking forward to a rematch in October.

Coach Laura Mayo was particularly encouraged by the scrapiness of her squad, and the way it pursues balls they would have let drop just a few weeks ago. I’m pleased with the flexibility of the varsity, a trait that will be put to the test now that top hitter Nichole Hand is out for a few weeks with an injured ankle. In such a competititve league, I’m confident the team will respond with grit to the challenge of fighting for every point.

We’ll be on the road for the next six contests, starting next week with long trips to see a strong Stony Brook team on September 26 and to Port Jefferson on 28 to start the second half of the season.