On March 1, the fall sports season started.
Yes, fall sports in March. It was hard to tell who was happiest during the volleyball team’s first practice. Coaches Cindy Belt and Laura Mayo had been waiting a long time for this moment, as well as the 25 athletes who came out for the team.
Similar to basketball and cheerleading, athletes and coaches face mandatory weekly COVID tests, and daily temperature checks and attestation sheets which certify that everyone in the gym has been adhering to safe protocols.
On Monday, March 8, the first volleyball competition in over 15 months was held in the Shelter Island gym. The maintenance staff and athletic department had to adjust to new seating arrangements for social distancing. Each athlete has two tickets to her game, so there were family and friends in the stands once again. The cheers and handmade signs were awesome to see.
The JV squad was the first up against the visiting Red Devils of Center Moriches. The squad of 12 is an even mix of returning players and those new to high school ball. Juniors Olivia Overstreet and Ariana Carter, cross country and track athletes, are bringing their welcome talents and speedy feet to the court. Carter has a mix of height, jumping ability and a nice setting touch on the ball, while Overstreet’s quick reflexes and willingness to chase down balls make her a defensive standout.
Madison Springer, another dual athlete, has natural setting instincts and the stamina and speed to be in every play. Freshwomen Kaitlyn Gulluscio and Mackenzie Speece-Langendal have reliable serves and are increasing their knowledge of the game daily. Classmate Sophie Clark brings a strong serve and nice court sense, allowing her to switch easily between hitting roles. Harper Congdon will be eligible soon, and will also bring serving prowess to the squad.
Sophomore Madigan Teodoru has emerged as the top passer on the team, earning her the different color shirt that marks her as the libero. She is calm, steady and quick. Margaret Schultheis is also a nice defensive player and popped up several of Center Moriches’s surprisingly hard hits and serves.
Veteran Alex Burns can hit as well as play defense, while Andrea Napoles impressed her coach with her much improved serving and hitting this season. Mary Gennari is the squad’s captain, and her all round play and ability to be a team leader is great.
The squad played well against a strong and disciplined Red Devils team. The final scores were 25-15, 25-18 and 25-11 for Center Moriches.
Coach Laura Mayo was proud of her team’s effort, saying, “They have learned so much and come so far in just six practices. They are really supportive of one another and I’m excited to see them gain even more confidence.”
As the JV squad headed home, the varsity team began warming up. The excitement was palpable, and as the opening whistle blew, the squad took the court with fierce determination. The power of our serves, combined with the strongest all-around defense in years surprised the Red Devils, who likely were expecting “little Shelter Island” to not pose much of a threat.
The Islanders burst out to a 6-0 lead on the strength of Dayla Reyes’s serves, including 3 of her 8 aces of the night. Grace Olinkiewicz got her first varsity kill, and the team kept steamrolling the surprised Devils. Valeria Reyes closed out the convincing 25-9 first set win with a kill of her own.
If Center Moriches was hoping the first set was beginner’s luck, they were definitely mistaken. Lily Page made her first varsity start at middle blocker, and Myla Dougherty’s 7 serves helped propel the team to another fast start. Franny Regan has adapted well to a new defense this year, and her fast feet and calm demeanor is a terrific complement to libero Angie Rice’s outstanding backrow work. The second set was another strong victory: 25-14.
But a varsity contest is 3 out of 5 and Center Moriches was not about to go quietly. In the third set Center Moriches buckled down, holding a 3 or 4 point lead until Lydia Shepherd’s kill pulled us with one at 18-19, then her block a couple of points later put us ahead by one. But when scores are so close at the end of the game, an error or two makes a big difference. The Red Devils made a couple of good plays and pulled out a 25-23 win.
During the fourth set the Blue and Gray buckled down again. Captain Jane Richards was hitting extremely well, nailing hard to reach corners with power. She ended the night with a team-high 12 kills. Up 21-8, the team let their guard down, letting Center Moriches score 10 points to our 4. However, the final score was 25-18, with Shelter Island getting the well- deserved, confidence-boosting win.
With Bella Springer and Izzy Fonseca now eligible to play, team chemistry will only grow stronger. As Coach Mayo noted, the level of trust on the team is terrific. They believe in each other’s abilities and encourage each other on every play. It was a wonderful way to celebrate International Women’s Day.
With so much that’s changed over this past year, the return of volleyball was another sign that we’re turning the corner on the pandemic. I’m so happy for these athletes who have been patient and hopeful, and extremely grateful to the faculty and staff at Shelter Island School for going above and beyond to give our student-athletes their long awaited season.