When you entered the gym on Friday, October 20, there was no doubt it was a special day.
Pink streamers and balloons adorned the stands, a poster about each player was on the walls, and a panel of paper ribbons referenced loves ones who are fighting or affected by breast cancer.
It was “Dig Pink” day, a chance to raise funds for the Side-Out Foundation. Started by a volleyball coach, the foundation funds cutting-edge clinical trials at renowned medical institutions.
A portion of the money raised through Side-Out goes to high-quality support services for cancer patients and their families. The volleyball team had been working all week to sell pink bracelets and ribbons. The concession stand staffed by both players and parents — thanks Vinette Olinkiwicz and Chris and Shannon Coyne — helped raise $675 for the Foundation.
The athletes wore bright pink jerseys, and the visiting Stony Brook Bears had also made their own jerseys, so the teams were united in purpose.
The JV squads played first. In September, the Bears had taken the first set handily, barely squeaked out the second set and the Islanders took the third. This time it was all Blue and Gray (or pink, as the case may be). Given that Maria Carbajal was still out, and Jennifer Lupo had sprained an ankle two days before, the home team was only able to suit up six athletes, the absolute minimum number needed. Carbajal and Lupo cheered loudly from the bench, and their energy made a difference.
Abby Kotula, who has been the swift-footed libero most of the season, made the switch to outside hitter.
In the first set Lydia Shepherd got the ball to setter Amelia Reiter who set up Audrey Wood. Just a few points later, the defense gave the crowd reason to cheer as Wood scraped a dig off the floor, Kotula popped the ball to Shepherd who put it over, catching the Bears flat-footed. A 25-19 win had the home squad grinning from ear to ear.
In the next set, Grace Olinkiewicz continued her all out effort on defense, digging up balls and blocking at the net. Wood had the outstanding contribution to the set, serving nine straight to hand the Bears a 25-14 loss, ensuring the match win.
In the final set, the pink squad continued their domination. Bella Springer jumped high to swing hard at the ball, then followed up later with some well-timed blocks. The Islanders jumped out to a 10-2 lead and never looked back, winning 25-13, earning their first sweep of the year.
Between the JV and varsity games, three seniors were honored: Caitlin Binder, Sarah Lewis and Phoebe Starzee. The memories shared by the younger players reminded all present that bonds forged on Shelter Island extend far beyond the gym walls, and often form from a very young age. We truly are a special community.
The Bears are tall and well coached. After falling behind 10-18, mainly through our mistakes, the home town team started a relentless comeback. Amelia Clark put down two kills around a big block, and Nichole Hand blasted three consecutive spikes. Sarah Lewis’s trademark “silver bullet” serves completed the battle to even the score at 21-21. Stony Brook started using their very effective tips to keep us off balance, and managed to take the first set 26-24.
The second set saw Stony Brook amping up the use of their tricky tips. Down 3-9 but undeterred, the Islanders started a comeback. Phoebe Starzee’s steady serving kept us earning points. Isabelle Topliff gave the Bears a taste of their own medicine, tipping for a point, then blocking their big middle hitter to pull us to 11-12.
The Bears pulled ahead 24-16, but a Jane Richards block and a Clark ace held them at 24 for 5 points before they could finally win the set, 25-20.
With our backs to the wall, we dug deep. This set was more closely played. The Blue and Gray fell behind, but tied it at 13-13. Battling point by point, and with Caitlin Binder’s incredibly calm defense, the score was tied 10 times until Lyng Coyne’s ace sealed the set win, 27-25. This was only the second set that the undefeated Bears have suffered all season in League VIII — a huge feather in our caps.
In the fourth set, it was more of the same gritty play from the Islanders, and smart tips and tough serves from the visitors. Stony Brook’s coach is crafty/creative in his lineups, and knows how to exploit a team’s weakness.
With the home crowd behind us, he found very little to pick on. Pushing hard the whole time, the Blue and Gray battled for every point. The final score was 25-19 for the Bears. They took the match, but we undeniably won the respect of the league leaders.
For the seniors, it was their last shot at the playoffs as well as their high school volleyball swan song. They performed with class and grace. All season they have mentored the younger athletes, and the fruit of their labor is easy to see.
Shelter Island volleyball has tradition and heart, and now a new set of alumnae.