Sometimes when coaching, you can form a mutual admiration society.
At the October 13 final home game of the season, and Senior Send-off for the Shelter Island varsity volleyball team, the coaches and players shared words and tokens of their esteem. The words describing the seniors were contributed from their teammates. I was very happy to hear the words “kind,” “strong” and “hard-working” repeated for many of this dynamic group. Parents enjoyed and/or shed tears for another “last” for their seniors.
It was 5 p.m. before late arriving Babylon entered the pink-themed gym for our Dig Pink event. October is breast cancer awareness month, and the volleyball community’s Side-Out Foundation has been raising funds since 2004 to provide funding and support for Stage IV breast cancer survivors. Pink decorations, pink warm up shirts, ribbons for sale, posters on the walls and concessions in the hall were all part of the fanfare. The enthusiastic student body wore pink for the school day, helping to raise over $800 for the cause.
The junior varsity teams started the evening festivities. Brenda Mayo is the coach of the Babylon JV squad. The Babylon-Shelter Island match-up between mother and daughter has been dubbed the Battle of Mayos. Last year the elder Mayo won bragging rights, but this year Laura Mayo’s team hung tough to get the win.
It wasn’t terribly easy. Maddie Springer and Danae Carter split setting duties in the first set. Andrea Napoles is showing excellent court instincts, and moves quickly to get into position, scoop up tips, pass a serve, or to hit the ball. Harper Congdon’s steady serves added points and the home team took the first set 26-24. Margaret Schultheis’s high energy serves led the way during the second set, but the Panthers took advantage of some lack of focus and won 25-16. The JV team is no stranger to tiebreakers this year, and Sophie Clark’s block, then string of serves put the team ahead for good and sealed the match victory, 25-18.
The varsity took the court with determination. Earlier in season we had won a five-set battle, so we knew we would need to stay focused. It was a back-and-forth match, with three of the four sets won by the minimum 2-point margin. Music during timeouts added to the unique flavor of the evening.
Myla Dougherty had a great senior game with 12 aces and 9 kills.
After a 25-23 first set and a dominating 25-10 second set, the Islanders eased up too much, letting Babylon take the third, 25-23. In the fourth we got down by 8 early on, made a mid-game comeback to get within 1, then Babylon edged out to a 23-20 lead. With Mary Gennari serving 3 aces and smart hitting by Franny Reagan, the Islanders scored 5 unanswered points to take the match 25-23, capping the joyous occasion.
On Friday, October 15, we visited the Ross School. When we had first seen the Ross JV team, they were very new. They have matured a good deal over the past month, and it was great to see their improved poise. Likewise, the Islanders have continued to improve, and played very well. Johanna Kaasik and Dariana Duran Alvarado both moved well, passing the ball and serving well. Duran Alvarado served five in a row, a new record for her. Mackenzie Speece-Langendal and Kaitlyn Gulluscio continued to hustle for loose balls and added nice offense.
The team won the first two sets 25-17 and 25-18, ensuring the match win, so Coach Mayo got creative with her line-up. Every player got on the court, with Napoles getting a chance to try her hand at setting. It is a joy to see these young players having so much fun and gaining so much confidence.
The varsity got on the court facing a challenging situation. Ross had beaten us earlier in the season, with a stunning 7-point comeback late in the fourth set. The Ravens are good, with tough servers and a powerful hitter making them tough to beat. They are also another Class D school, and we are vying for the county title against them.
In addition, we were short one of our starters: Myla Dougherty had important family obligations and couldn’t be there. However, the Islanders are used to being versatile, and in our three tournaments this year we’ve mixed up positions, giving people a chance to play in different roles on the court.
That being said, a necessary last-minute substitution meant that we had three players in less-favored positions. A bit out of sync, we quickly dropped the first set 25-10. But volleyball is a game of momentum, and like the stock market, past performance is no guarantee of future results.
By the second set, we were able to revert to a more normal rotation, stunning Ross with three-in-a-row victories to take the match. There are several ways to beat a team — superior firepower, serving or defense. And sometimes you just outlast them. Ross’s signature is relentless defense, getting the ball back into the opponents’ court.
But the Islanders were patient, focused, and continued to put the ball into tough-to-return spots on the court. Ariana Carter’s new confidence in tipping kept the Ravens on their toes. Alex Burns contributed 3 kills and 3 aces, while the calm defense of Olivia Overstreet and Madi Teodoru kept the ball in play.
Lily Page served well, while Angelina Rice’s intense energy kept the team intent on our goal. Dayla Reyes’s volleyball IQ is terrific, and she mixed up sets to various hitters while scoring 8 points on her sneaky tips and dumps. The second and third sets were won 25-21 and 25-22.
And the final set was a doozy. It went back and forth, with no one able to get more than a 2-point lead. There were 17 ties in the score. Each team faced down match point multiple times before the Islanders finally prevailed 30-28.
The broad grins on the athletes’ faces and the palpable pride in one another were great to see. The mental toughness they are developing as we close out the season is awesome. While entry into playoffs isn’t assured, as of October 17 we are now 5-6 in League VI, with 1 to go. We expect that we will be seeing Ross in the Class D playoffs.
With one win apiece head-to-head, we both feel the chance to claim the title is deserved. Stay tuned for the season ending news!