During the busy week starting Oct. 10, the junior varsity and varsity volleyball teams faced three opponents.
JV had an excellent week, beating the Greenport Purple squad, Wyandanch and Ross.
On Oct 11, the team traveled to Greenport. After the Islanders got out to a 7-2 lead, a strong Greenport server ran a string of points before Elli Schack made a smart tip to get the team back into the game. Despite dropping the first set 17-25, the team buckled down and made a comeback, with Miranda Marcello earning the last 3 points for a 25-23 win and force the tiebreaker.
With our confidence restored and some nice passing by libero Quinn Sobejana, the third set 25-19 win sealed the match victory.
When Shelter Island faced Wyandanch on October 12, the Blue and Gray were more experienced and well prepared than their last meeting. Coach Andrejack watched proudly as Tola Bliss made a nice pass to Johanna Kaasik who set it to Marcello for a textbook kill.
Likewise, in the second set a Bliss pass, Schack set and a great swing from Dariana Duran Alvarado scored a point to keep SI in the lead. Grace Katherine-Lim played in the front row, while Lili Kuhr went in to serve. Kuhr’s wide smile and confidence was great to see.
The Islanders won 25-9, 25-21, 16-25.
Oct. 14 proved to be a nice sweep over the Ross Ravens. On the Islanders side great serving and the ability to shake off mistakes was key to victory. After an uncharacteristically slow start, Lauren Gibbs gained back her confidence to serve well. Keili Osorio Lopez has been working hard and the team cheered happily as she put a serve over and scored a point.
Coach Andrejack has made a pact with the athletes that if they are ahead by 10 or more points, they can try the high-risk, high-reward jump serve. Mae Brigham rose to the challenge and was able to score a point on the tougher serve. The final scores were 25-14, 25-20, 25-11.
The varsity came into the week with something to prove. We had played evenly with Greenport/Southold Clippers in September, and felt a win against them was within our reach. We played fairly well, but just couldn’t get to 25 first. Congrats to retiring Coach Mike Gunther, who has taken the team from a 1-win season in 2021 to a comfortable mid-league ranking in 2022.
Our other two matches were against Class D opponents: Smithtown Christian and Ross. While all three of us are below the .500 league record normally required to qualify for playoffs, if only Class D schools are taken into account, there’s still hope we may qualify for the post season.
We wanted to beat the Knights and the Ravens to make it clear we’re ready. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), Smithtown Christian faced problems getting transportation for the Oct. 13 match. They decided to take a forfeit instead of rescheduling the match, which gives us 2 wins against them.
Ross has split with Smithtown Christian this season, so that helps our cause.
On Oct. 14 we headed to the Ross School for a 5-set nail biter. The team played hard, shifting serve receive patterns when facing tough servers, and reminding each other about tendencies of the Ross hitters and encouraging one another to stay positive.
It was exciting — while sitting on the bench, my Fitbit kept buzzing indicating that my heartbeat was in the target zone.
In the first set Ross jumped out to a 1-8 lead, but steady playing chipped away at that lead. Alex Burns stepped to the service line and broke out her new jump serve, notching three consecutive aces to tie the score at 13-13. But Ross didn’t give up, taking the first set 25-22.
We know from experience that losing the first set to Ross is often not indicative of how the match will end, so we set our sights on the second set.
Mary Gennari is one of our most consistent servers who also can ace the opponent. In this set alone she had 4 aces. Another steady and strategic server, Kaitlyn Gullsucio, targeted Ross’s weaker receivers. She scored 3 in a row, including a sneaky short serve. Sophie Clark is primarily a setter, but she can also score with hits and clever tips.
As Clark scored a point with a heads-up play to a spot dubbed “the donut,” Maddie Springer hugged her fellow playmaker exclaiming, “I love you!” That momentum carried over to win 25-20.
Set three started with Ross jumping out to an 8-point lead. Undaunted, the Islanders started a comeback, including a great block by Kat Austin and Clark. Burns evened the score at 23-23 with a great save, and Margaret Schultheis brought her high energy and tough serve to the court, scoring an ace. But this set wasn’t over, and a point-by-point battle ended with Ross taking the set in “overtime” 28-26.
In set 4, we dug deep. Mackenzie Speece made a nice save to keep a rally going, helping tie the score at 14-14. Ross pulled ahead, but a Clark ace tied it again at 20-20. Andrea Napoles is a quiet player who doesn’t command a lot of attention, but is always at the right place and thinking ahead. She served an ace putting us up 24-22, and a final Ross mistake allowed us to grab the 25-22 win and set up the tiebreaker.
The deciding set is only 15 points, and both teams started tentatively. The set goes quickly and there’s little time to recover from a deficit. Harper Congdon’s calm defense and confidence was very helpful, and we played fairly evenly until Ross sprinted to 7-13 lead, We dug deep but ran out of game, pulling within 3, with Ross taking the match 15-12.
How close was it? Ross and SI each earned a total of 110 points out of the usual maximum total of 115. While I never blame an official for the outcome of a match, the referee we had was quite strict in his judgment, handing out 15 ball-handling/double touch penalties on SI. Normally we average 2 or 3, and it took a toll on the momentum of the game, in addition to the lost points.
Gathering after the match, the team was quiet; there were more than a couple of players with moist eyes. Passion occasionally shows up as tears — a sign of how much the game means to these athletes who are working so hard this season.
They still have at least two matches to play. We travel to Babylon on Oct. 18 and wrap up our league play on Oct.19 with our Senior Game against Port Jefferson.
We’re holding out hope we might work our way into the Class D playoffs, and have a shot at claiming the county title. Until then, we will practice and play the game we love.