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Young volleyballers quickly learning skill and strategy

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO Alexandra Burns keeping the ball in the court at home against Ross January 12.
BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO Alexandra Burns keeping the ball in the court at home against Ross January 12.

Incredibly, the girls junior high volleyball team is nearly done with their season.

The team has been improving its skills, and the first game back after the Christmas break was a hard-fought loss against a strong Montauk squad. The match at East Moriches on Monday, January 8, after two snow days, was a difficult one — nothing seemed to go right.

With the first half of the season spent mainly on the road, the team was ready to come home with new determination. The girls buckled down, and after a practice focused on movement and confidence, did very well against the Center Moriches Red Devils on January 11.

The first home match in over three weeks drew a crowd of supportive parents and fans.

The Red Devils are a very good team. As a junior high team they consistently work to get three hits and to set up their hitters. It’s a strategy that’s difficult to employ at a young age.

With skills still in the learning stage, three touches means three times you could make an error. However, teams trained to control the ball, not just get it over, will do better as they move into high school ball. In a very closely played match, the Devils came away with the victory in the tiebreaker.

There were many bright spots in the game. Serving is a huge step and many 7th graders struggle to master the overhand serve. Madigan Teodoru had just gotten her first serve over the net in practice two nights prior, and she did it in the Center Moriches match on her first try.

Andrea Napoles’s serving has been inconsistent, but as her serve in the third set cleared the net and dropped for a point, teammates mobbed her with joy.

Emma Madjisova-Martinez has been working on her jump serve and was one of the more consistent servers, while Valeria Reyes’s beeline serve set the Devils on their heels. Angie Corbett-Rice has a strong arm, serving eight in a row in the second set as the team rallied from a 7-point deficit to win. Olivia Overstreet uses an underhand serve; Center Moriches underestimated her gentle touch, and she scored five in a row in the first set.

Parents are learning the game, encouraging their daughters. Franny Regan is a nice role model for the rest of the team as she consistently works on her communication skills.

Dayla Reyes had very good court sense and good passing. On one play, Reyes jumped and tipped the ball over, catching the Devils flat-footed. Isabella Fonseca made an impressive run for the ball, falling to the court in the all-out effort.

Allie Brush was both aggressive on offense and focused on serve receive, shaking off a bad pass to stare down the server and win the next point. Madison Springer also brought that mental toughness. Margaret Schultheis is new to the sport, but is always trying and moving. Cassie Espinoza Heimann is quick on the court, and her serves have become steadily more consistent.

One of the things I’m most impressed with is the support the players give one another. Gathering in the middle of the court at the start of the third set, I could see Daria Kolmogorova and Lily Page talking with the team, encouraging all. Accordingly, Mary Gennari calmly started the game with a nice serve, notching the first point for the home team.

Another evolving skill is the ability to track the ball and quickly move to it. Kathy Ramos showed she was willing to hit the floor to make a point and Alex Burns’ quick feet allow her to chase down wayward balls that others may not get to.

Junior high sports is all about development and learning the game. That was evident as the referee took time between sets to explain the finer rules of court switching to the teams. The Center Moriches coach also took the time to say a kind word to Angie Corbett-Rice as they shook hands post-game. Angie had missed the last serve of the game and was despondent.

The coach knew that encouragement would go a long way in helping to heal the hurt of losing the match and encouraged her to keep trying.

While Center Moriches won on the 11th, the determined Shelter Island players didn’t let that get them down. The next day they played another excellent match against the visiting Ross squad. Earlier in the season the match had gone to a tie breaker, with the Islanders emerging victorious. In another down-to-the-wire game, Ross was handed another loss as the home team showed grit and heart to win 27-25 in the final set.

Ross has been on a winning streak, so the win was especially sweet. Several parents commented on the excitement and focus the entire team showed in their all out effort.

The season will end with a final home game against Montauk on January 16 and an away match against the Center Moriches Red squad on January 18.