The end of the season is always bittersweet. After months of playing together, the Shelter Island volleyball team ended their season with a memorable bus ride up to Bard College.
We had qualified for the New York State Class D Regional Semi-Finals by defeating the Ross School in the Suffolk County championships. That match was great to watch — a showcase of how far the team has come this fall. Seniors played leadership roles, and juniors stepped up big time to give us a glimpse of the future of the Island’s volleyball program.
The county win came on Monday, Nov. 7 and less than 48 hours later the team boarded a coach bus for the five-hour ride up along the Hudson. As the team gathered by the school gym, going down the usual checklist of jersey, shoes, hair ties, sneakers, there was a murmur of voices farther down the hall, and in the main lobby.
The whole school had gathered to wish the team luck on our journey. Pre-school faces shown in excitement, and elementary and middle school students looked on with interest as they thought about their future athletic careers.
The junior varsity players didn’t make the long trip, but they cheered the loudest since they knew the dedication the varsity team had shown to improve throughout the season.
Especially meaningful to me was the presence of former players among those well-wishers: Sarah Lewis, class of 2018, and Claire Read Geehreng, class of 2010, shared their excitement for the athletes.
Jim Theinert, math teacher and a former three-year JV coach, smiled and said, “Play well and have fun,” Shelter Island’s volleyball mantra for years.
We knew that our opponent was the Mount Academy Eagles, reigning state champs and a very tough team. During the long bus ride to the game, the team was quiet at first, but as we made our way north of New York City, the conversation became animated. Each player had chosen a “pump-up” song, and as we approached the game site, players were jamming out to their favorite tunes.
Some fans even made the long trip. Grandparents, parents and siblings gathered in the big gym, and took in the air of a regional match. Four different refs were there, as was the director of Section IX.
Coach Erin Mulrain came along for the ride and provided back-up scorekeeping as Coach Kristin Andrejack assisted on the bench, keeping stats.
Pre-game introductions were done, and the match began.
Mount is tall and talented, and although they had lost a couple of key players since last year, it quickly became apparent that younger players had stepped up to fill the gap. Shelter Island looked a bit intimidated, and the Eagles took advantage of our slow start.
The Islanders warmed up a bit as the match progressed, but the ending was never in doubt, and Mount swept to a 3-0 win.
The Eagles are headed to the New York State Final Four this weekend, after defeating Tioga in the Nov. 12 regional finals. We wish them luck as they prepare to repeat as state champs.
As we gathered in the traditional post-game huddle, disappointment in the season-ending loss was obvious. However, as we reflected on the season and the many ways that the team had improved, smiles and pride quickly replaced the solemn faces.
Those smiles turned to laughter as the team headed outside to discover that the bus driver had taken a break, and the players cranked up music and danced to keep warm in the cold night air.
The long bus ride home was full of comfortable conversation as the team reflected on a season filled with personal progress and achievement. Our seniors Alex Burns, Mary Gennari, Andrea Napoles, Margaret Schultheis and Maddie Springer have led the way all season.
The juniors Kat Austin, Sophie Clark, Harper Congdon, Kaitlyn Gulluscio and Mackenzie Speece have risen to the challenge of transforming from young JV to confident varsity players. It has been a heartwarming and satisfying journey.
These young women will now transition from volleyball into basketball players, track athletes and cheerleaders. I look forward to seeing them continue their growth as people and athletes, and to seeing how Fall 2023 will shape up.
For now, I am content that we did indeed Play Well and Have Fun. Thank you, Shelter Island Volleyball 2022. It has been a great season.