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Shelter Island volleyball’s future: Junior high girls complete solid season

The junior high girls early winter volleyball season has come to an end. This season always seems to fly by given that the Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks both fall within this time frame.

As usual, it was terrific to see the great strides the team made in just a few short weeks.

Coach Laura Mayo leads the squad and faced a unique challenge. Last year there was no competitive season for 7th and 8th graders due to the first wave of COVID.

She was only able to practice with the grades in separate pods to learn skills. With no interscholastic competition or mixing of the grades it was impossible to work on game scenarios. That means she has packed in all the essentials — being a team, the rules of playing competitively, and the philosophy of modified sports — all into this season.

There was a total of eight athletes on the roster, all of whom are 8th graders. However, between school conflicts and health complications, there were never more than seven players participating in games, and often there was the bare minimum of six.

With no one to substitute in, every athlete had to have faith in herself and bring her best to every game.

Watching the team play it was great to see that there were few balls that dropped between players. The girls moved well to cover the court and worked hard to use all three allowed hits.

It is a difficult lesson to learn — it’s easiest to score points at this level by just getting the ball back over the net. Even parents need to learn the mantra of pass-set-hit. Patience and faith in the long-term payback takes practice.

Coach Mayo decided to treat this group as a junior varsity team. While each player learned every skill, they also practiced switching to a specific “base” on the court.

This requires concentration and keeping track of rotations, something we don’t normally require at the junior high level. The athletes rose to the occasion, and will be ahead of the game when they step into the gym next fall.

The team was competitive in every game, winning almost half of their matches, and normally winning at least one set of each three-set match.

This group of athletes is eager to learn. Mae Brigham consistently calls for the ball and loves to challenge herself with more difficult playing skills. Lauren Gibbs is another tall player who shows nice potential as a hitter, and also tracks and moves well to the ball.

Lili Kuir sports a great positive attitude and is a good passer. While small in stature she’s learned to adjust well and was proud to be able to hit the ball over the net in spiking practice. Mandy Marcello is naturally athletic, and has very good mechanics. She has a fierce serve and is also aggressive at the net.

Keili Osorio trained with the team, but did not have a chance to participate in games. She shows enthusiasm and is a very coachable player. Jade Samuelson is not afraid to move to the ball, often going to the floor to make a play. Her improving confidence in serving is nice to see.

Elena Schack is another player who loves to work hard to improve. She moves to the ball well, and her setting has really come along nicely during the course of the season. Madison Sobejana shows her cross country running skill in her fast feet. She has quick reflexes and always is ready to move to the ball.

Coach Mayo is proud of the team’s progress. At the start of the season the girls would often be self-conscious if they made a mistake, missed a serve, or lost a set.

By the final game on Jan. 10, they had matured as players and were able to step back and evaluate how to improve their skills without self-recrimination.

One of the best things about being in the stands during a game is overhearing comments by parents and younger siblings. The positive cheers of “nice try” and “let’s go Shelter Island” were great to hear.

My favorite moment came from a group of young elementary girls who were watching the players on the court, and dreaming about when they too would be able to suit up and be on a team. The knot of admirers cheered on their mentors calling out, “You go, girl bosses!”

Unknowingly, they were reflecting the positive attributes of being a strong, confident young woman, which may be gained from playing sports.

Girl bosses, indeed.

Congrats on a nice season, ladies!