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Victory is sweet for volleyball squads: Notch wins in league play

The Shelter Island junior varsity and varsity volleyball teams have claimed league victories in the past week. The JV bested the Greenport/Southold Clippers in front of an appreciative home crowd, while the varsity was away at Smithtown Christian for a dramatic 5-set win.

Tough serving and supportive play was the recipe for success for the JV’s win over the Clippers on Tuesday, September 13. Dariana Duran Alvarado served nine consecutive balls, pulling the team out to a 9-3 lead.

Mandy Marcello showed she was ready to hit from anywhere, jumping and swinging at a back row set. Lauren Gibbs is a fierce presence at the net, and hit down an overpass for a point.

Tola Bliss stepped to the service line with the Islander’s score at 15, and didn’t stop serving until the end of the set — 10 straight serves with 7 aces. The comfortable win was 25-11.

In the second set Keili Osorio Lopez and Grace Katherine-Lim got into the action. Mae Brigham, in addition to her duties at middle hitter, led the team with resounding “Ace, whoo!” cheers, as Johanna Kaasik, Marcello, Schack, and Bliss racked up uncontested points on their serves.

The Clippers outlasted the Islanders to take the set 25-21 and set up the tie-breaker.

As the team stepped onto the court, Lili Kuhr and Victoria Hernandez gave advice: “Get the ball to the setter. Follow the ball to the line. Stay on your feet and move.”

Elli Schack embodied the team’s all-out effort, snagging a one-handed save on a dive to the floor. Greenport got a bit rattled, and former Island player Julia Labrozzi, now coaching for the Clippers, called a time out with the score 17-9. Her team responded, and nice 3-hit plays from both teams became more common.

Quinn Sobejana kept giving steady passes, and it was terrific to see the determination of the team to score. The visitors crept up, tying the score at 22-22. A sweet kill by Gibbs was called back when it was determined she touched the net, but the Clippers’ player served out, sealing the Islanders’ first match win of the season.

The JV’s trip to Wyandanch on Sept. 14 was less satisfying. Wyandanch only fields a JV squad, which means older students are mixed with younger. Strong serving and their infamous “over in one” playing style can play havoc on teams, and the Islanders dropped all 3 sets.

The varsity team had hopes of repeating the JV’s success in beating the Clippers, but our relative youth showed in our inconsistency.

We played competitively, with respectable scores, but missed serves prevented us from taking a set. The Clippers took this round 25-20, 25-23 and 25-19.

Smithtown Christian is a long way to travel. On Sept. 14, we got on the bus for the two-hour ride to face the Knights’ new varsity program. The team had over 20 athletes, but only some played during the match.

Warming up, the Islanders looked very coordinated in their new black shirts sporting first, last or nicknames across the back.

As we get deeper into the season, we’re seeing patterns emerge in our play, and improvements to individual skills. As a coach, this helps me decide on the most effective line-up against opponents. In the first set we recognized that we tend to have a mid-set lull.

A strong server allowed the Knights to score 7 consecutive points, which proved too much to overcome as they took the first set 25-19.

The second set started with Maddie Springer serving us out to a 6-0 lead. Kat Austin is still new to the game, but she made a great attempt to help save the ball out of the net.

The Knights made a run mid-set, tying the score at 17-17, but Andrea Napoles proved she not only is versatile as a hitter, but a resourceful and smart server.

Alex Burns channeled her competitive energy and jumped high to kill an overpass, and we had our first set win of the season at 25-21.

The third set started with a 4-point lead, but despite Mackenzie Speece’s nice work at the net, we got stuck in a serve-receive rotation against a tough server and ended up playing catch up with a persistent 3-4 point deficit. Sophie Clark stepped to the service line with the Knights at 24.

A single error would lose the set. Clark’s serving is powerful but hadn’t been particularly reliable, so each attempt was a test of nerves and faith. Buoyed by Margaret Schultheis’s positivity, 4 of Clark’s 5 attempts resulted in aces, and a final “overtime” win of 26-24 for the Islanders.

With two sets in hand, and the momentum in our favor, we made the mistake of becoming complacent. Unfortunately, a young team can become easily frazzled, and despite multiple substitutions and timeouts to try to stem the tide, we quickly lost the fourth set 25-8.

This year the tiebreaker at the varsity level is 15 points. This change matches nearly every other level of play, but it’s a switch for girls high school volleyball. You need to start fast, and not get behind, since there’s not much wiggle room to catch up.

The Islanders, stunned by the 4th set loss, were determined. Mary Gennari brought her calm, steady leadership to the floor, along with an effective serve. Harper Congdon anchored the defense and serve-receive. As rock-steady Kaitlyn Gulluscio served the ball over and in, and Napoles jumped at the net to tap it back to the Knight’s side, we finally had our hard-fought, first win of the season.

As Smithtown Christian is another Class D school, this was an especially important win.

The varsity also attended the Center Moriches tournament on Sept. 17, with Tola Bliss and Johanna Kaasik adding their support. We faced five different teams that day, adding more experience to every player’s portfolio.

This coming week’s two matches against the Ross School (Sept. 20) and Port Jefferson (Sept. 22) will mark the end of our first half of the season. With game knowledge and lots of stats in hands, we‘re excited to see our competitors for the second time, and show them what we’ve learned.