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Jr. High volleyball players hitting their stride

JENNIFER GULLUSCIO PHOTO
Katie Gulluscio’s impressive serving helped lead a strong showing against the Mattituck Gold team on Nov. 22.

The winter sports season has started. While the track team still trains outside, the gym schedule is crowded with four different basketball teams, the cheer squad and the junior high volleyball team.

Coach Taylor Anderson is in her third season of working with the 7th and 8th grade volleyball team, and is proud to see the progress the team is making in the early days of the season. Three returning 8th graders lead the squad, and five 7th graders are stepping up to the challenge of playing interscholastic athletics.

The team has already played two matches. Their first, against Greenport Purple on Tuesday, Nov. 19 had an added twist. In addition to the challenge of first game jitters, Coach Anderson was unexpectedly delayed with family matters. Luckily, in this close-knit community, help is always nearby. Laura Mayo is the fall JV volleyball coach, and had already worked with the junior high girls the day before. She was slated to work the scoring desk for the match, but I am always eager to support the younger squad and took on the role of coach for the day. Between Laura and I, we put together a line-up, organized the warm-up, and let them play.

With traditional volleyball pride, some varsity and JV players were present at both games to support the younger girls. Margaret Schultheis worked the scorer’s table, while other players helped as line judges.

While the season is still new, I was impressed with the team’s support for one another. They are learning to come together on the court after each play, and the 8th grade leadership is already evident.

Sophie Clark is one of the quickest players on the court. She has a strong serve and moves well to the ball, and will step in to take charge.

Classmate Harper Congdon has developed a strong arm and can put her serves to corners of the court, which leads to many points. Kaitlyn Gulluscio is a very good communicator, calling the ball, and has suddenly developed an aggressive game-time serve.

The surprised but very happy smiles from parents and coaches underscore the unexpected progress student-athletes can make, sometimes quite quickly.

Both 7th graders Danae Carter and Johanna Kaasik are athletic, quick, and track the ball well.

Although they are new to the sport, they already show excellent fundamental form, as well as the competitive desire to improve. Danae’s work at the net and Johanna’s passing helped the team sweep Greenport in a 25-20, 25-13, 25-19 win.

On Friday, Nov. 22, the Mattituck Gold squad visited the Island. There was lots of family support in stands, from grandparents to infants. The team played well again. Jennifer Fabian Santos has been working hard on her serve, and she has already made the switch from the more elementary underhand serve she used in the Greenport game to the more powerful overhand serve.

She did well, acing the Tucker team several times. Dariana Duran Alvarado may be the smallest player on the court, but she isn’t afraid to go after the ball. Scrambling after a mis-passed ball, she hustled to the sidelines to get a touch.

Janet Carbajal is proving that volleyball talent runs in the family. Her older sister Maria was a captain of the varsity team, and Janet chose the same number (9) for her own uniform. Janet also has a strong serve, and is one of the best passers on the team. As a coach I am loving the déjà vu I experience when I watch her play.

The Mattituck team is much larger than the Island squad, and also used numerous three hit plays, something Shelter Island is aspiring to. In the end, Mattituck won the evenly played match 25-22, 25-19 and held off a comeback effort from the Blue and Gray to win the third set in “extra innings” 26-24.

Coach Anderson is proud of the small squad. The team’s season goals include improved serving by all athletes. Everyone wants to be able to serve overhand by the end of season. At this level passing is also a big focus. Once that first touch on the ball is more controlled, the team can progress to setting and hitting the ball for a more effective offense. Coach Anderson praised the team: “They have come a long way since the first practice. I’m just so proud of them.”

The next home game for the team is after the Thanksgiving break. Come to the gym on Monday, Dec. 2 at 4 p.m. to cheer them on against the Southold Red team.

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