We all knew that this volleyball season would be a little different due to COVID-19.
On Monday, March 15 we began to appreciate why we are sticklers about mask wearing, ball sanitation and separate practices for varsity and junior varsity. The Greenport/Southold team was scheduled to play us, but the team has been hit with a positive COVID test, and they are out of action for two weeks.
Just two days previously the teams had traveled to Sag Harbor to play the Pierson Whalers.
JV squads often face a much steeper learning curve than varsity squads. Position specialization and the expectation that all rallies will use three hits takes some time to get used to. The athletes have been working diligently on learning the finer points of the game and entered the Pierson match with much improved confidence.
The first set was a back and forth affair. Kaitlyn Gulluscio’s and Margaret Schultheis’s serving and ebullient spirits buoyed the team. Libero Madigan Teodoru’s great passing allowed setter Madison Springer to set up Arianna Carter who is starting to connect on her hits. Pierson took the first set 25-22.
In the second set, Harper Congdon got her first game jitters out as she played at the net. Olivia Overstreet filled in for her in the back row. Andrea Napoles was active on both defense and offense, surprising the Whalers with her strong swings. In the middle of the games Shelter Island was down 18-13, but Mackenzie Speece-Langendal is proving to be a serving pro, and she nudged the team closer to victory. A slow but steady comeback was capped by an exciting 26-24 win to send the match into a tie-breaker.
The team gathered around Coach Laura Mayo, each eager to play her part in the match. Sophie Clark tipped over a ball, then followed up with strong serves. With the score tied 10-10, Alex Burns went to the serving line and flawlessly blasted 10 consecutive aces. As Pierson caught their breath, the Islanders didn’t let down. In a nice role switch, Mary Gennari set Madison Springer for two kills in the final stretch to seal the 25-12 win.
Coach Mayo reflected, “The girls never gave up and supported each other through the ups and downs of the game. I knew they could do it, but I was so exited when they got the last point.” She went on to add, “The best compliment I’ve ever received about the team was when the referee told me at the end of the game how much he loves the team’s energy and he had fun watching them.”
Pierson and Shelter Island have a long-term friendly rivalry, with the Whalers’ currently holding a 5-year winning streak against us. This year the teams are more evenly matched, and we worked hard to prepare for the Whalers known strengths — a big block and a tall middle hitter with great jumping ability.
We had anticipated their block, and had worked on attack scenarios as well as defensive adjustments. Some of those worked well in the match, such as covering our hitters, being ready to pop up a blocked ball and create an offense. However, in anticipating the block, our hitters seemed a bit more tentative in their attacks.
At the start of the first set points we looked a bit timid, and got down by 4 points early on. Franny Regan’s ace helped close the gap. Jane Richards hit a super sharp cross court shot which landed inside the 10-foot line. As we pulled to 14-15, Pierson was forced to take a time out.
Lily Page contributed a kill. Unfortunately, Pierson went on an end-of-game run and our serve and hitting errors took a toll. The Whalers won 25-17.
Bella Springer and Izzy Fonseca are now fully qualified to play. Bella has emerged as a well-rounded player who can both set and play middle blocker.
She went up against Pierson’s big hitter and blocked her, causing a celebration on the court. Intense defense kept some long rallies going and Valeria Reyes showed off her versatile hitting as she sent an off-speed attack over the block for kill. Grace Olinkiewicz kept the Pierson outside hitters in line with her block.
Myla Dougherty jumped high and knocked down a Whaler’s overpass. Pierson persevered for the 25-22 win.
We began the third set determined to control what we could. Angelina Rice scrambled in the back court getting touches on tough hits.
Dayla Reyes spread out her sets to the offense, and Lydia Shepherd ably stepped in to assist when Dayla couldn’t get to the ball. Izzy’s strong serve was beneficial in the middle of set three as we were in tussle with Pierson to even the score.
As the set ticked on, a string of serving and hitting errors found us looking at a 24-17 deficit. One more point and the game was over.
Captain Jane Richards stepped calmly to the service line and a point-by-point comeback began. Seven straight points later the score was tied 24-24. In volleyball you need to win by 2 points, so that tie gave us crucial breathing room. After a fierce back-and-forth battle, Pierson emerged with a 28-26 overtime win.
There was a strange mix of euphoria and disappointment after the game. We may have lost, but the amazing mental toughness stated without a doubt that notice has been served. Pierson will need to be on their toes during the April 3 rematch.
This different season is certainly one to treasure, and the athletes are giving their all. In a busy week the teams will travel to Babylon on March 17, the JV will face Wyandanch at home the following day.
Both squads will see Southampton, a newcomer in the league, on Saturday, March 20.