The second full week of competition for the Shelter Island volleyball teams is in the books, and already there are signs of great growth on the individual and team levels.
The varsity and junior varsity faced the Babylon Panthers here on Sept. 6, then traveled to Sag Harbor for their first away game on Sept. 8. The varsity capped the busy week with a tournament at Eastport South Manor on Saturday, Sept. 10.
As expected, younger players grow the fastest. With only three returning players, the JV is advancing by leaps and bounds.
Babylon was the second match this season and was played on the first day of school. The Panthers brought tough and disciplined competition, but after a bit of confusion about positioning on the court, the Islanders settled in.
Lauren Gibbs, in her first high school start, got her first kill in a nice three-hit rally. In the second set, the team used different serve-receive patterns to adjust to the tough serves of Babylon, then Dariana Duran Alvarado stepped to the service line and delivered some tough serves of her own.
In the third set, the team was noticeably more confident. Keili Osorio Lopez put the ball over for a point, and a broad smile and quick happy dance made the bench cheer along with her.
Johanna Kaasik has worked hard on her serving ability and a string of points at the end of the set pulled the Islanders to a 17-17 tie with the Panthers, before a few missed opportunities allowed Babylon to seal the victory 25-13, 25-9, 25-20.
The first away match at Pierson showed again that our young players are becoming more confident. Quinn Sobejana sported the contrasting jersey of the libero, a defensive specialist who is called on to make the first pass in most rotations.
Elli Schack was once again in the demanding setting position, and Tola Bliss brought her confident serve to the court, notching 7 aces during the match. Pierson took the first 2 sets 25-14 and 25-18.
The third set against the Whalers brought the long-sought first win. Mae Brigham and Mandy Marcello showed they could both serve and hit well, as well as play leadership roles.
Grace Katherine-Lim and Victoria Hernandez each got onto the court and contributed in the front row, while Lili Kuhr’s passing ability helped bring home the 25-19 victory.
Coach Kristin Andrejack has been working diligently with the newer athletes; it was heartwarming to see the smiles all around when the final ball fell for the win.
The Babylon varsity team has a new head coach, and the team is tall and talented. We lost the first two sets 25-10 and 25-5, struggling to get our serve-receive up to speed, but by the third set the team was fired up. With positive energy and growing belief in one another, the teams traded points back and forth, with Mary Gennari making a tricky drop shot to a deep corner to tie the score 9-9.
Unfortunately, our serving went south, leading to an energy dip, letting Babylon sprint out to a 14-21 lead. But Shelter Island wasn’t done yet. The team dug deep and Harper Congdon stood her ground against tough hitters.
The energy and hustle continued and although the Panthers took the set 25-19 to get the match win, the Islanders were proud of the way they had fought through a very tough match to rebound in their confidence.
The game against Pierson showed glimmers of brilliance. Captain Mary Gennari wasn’t available to play, so Andrea Napoles showed her versatility as she shifted to the outside hitter position.
Napoles’ excellent serving at the start of the first set showed the determination of the squad. Kat Austin has great potential as a blocker, and early in the set made a great stuff block on the Whalers middle, which translated to them setting to the outside or right side for much of the rest of the match.
Mackenzie Speece was our other middle hitter, and made nice plays in the front and back rows. Captain Alex Burns is in the hot seat on both defense and offense. As an outside hitter she handles both serve-receive and offensive duties. When she connects on a good set there are few players that can dig it up.
Pierson won the match 25-22, 25-15, 25-10, but it’s clear it will be a fierce re-match when the Whalers see us again in October.
The Saturday, Sept. 10 Eastport South Manor tournament was a testament to team unity and bonding. The day started early, with glimpses of the full moon setting and the sun rising as we were on the ferry.
Nine varsity players made the trip, with JV players Mae Brigham and Mandy Marcello also coming along for the experience. For Shelter Island, tournaments are all about getting lots of playing time, mixing up line-ups and seeing tough competition.
Setters Sophie Clark and Maddie Springer are working well together. At the tournament, Clark had her back set warmed up and Springer swung out of the right side, keeping teams on their toes.
Kaitlyn Gulluscio has emerged as one of the team’s leading servers, and Margaret Schultheis’s energy and enthusiasm coupled with her fierce back row swings buoys the team every time she’s on the court.
With only one returning varsity player at the tourney, it was an eye-opening experience. The large gym complex hosted 16 teams in four pools. We played Islip, Sachem North and Center Moriches.
Even with non-traditional lineups, the team met their personal and team goals of the day.
The highlight of the day was playing St. John’s in the playoffs. The Cougars are tall, but the Islanders showed that the early morning and long day hadn’t tired them out.
The first-round playoff game was tightly contested. With scores of 25-23 and 25-13; the Blue and Gray fought hard and left it all on the court. The happy laughter and sharing of stories on the bus ride home was music to this coach’s ears.
Working hard, having fun and playing well — there is nothing better in sports.
The next home match will be against Class D rival Ross School on Tuesday, Sept. 20. JV plays at 4 p.m. and varsity at 5:45 p.m.
Come cheer on your hometown athletes!