The Shelter Island volleyball season is heating up. This past week that phrase was not just figurative, but literal.
Our non-league match on Wednesday, Sept. 6, against Hampton Bays was canceled due to a full heat advisory. Only limited practice was allowed the next day, and the Sept. 8 Pierson match was a sweatfest.
The Whalers match was held under a modified heat alert, which required water breaks every 15 minutes. It was odd to have the ref call for stoppage of play — it felt almost like a TV timeout.
The junior varsity team played first. With only seven players available for the match, each athlete was determined to make an impact. The squad had matched up nicely against the Whalers in 2022, when nearly all the Islanders were first-year players, so they were excited to show how much they had improved.
Mae Brigham set the determined tone with aggressive serving right off the bat, forcing a quick Whalers time out. With Elliot Schack unavailable, Quinn Sobejana was once again tapped to be a setter, and she hustled non-stop on the court. Pierson settled in and fought back. Once the score was tied at 10-10, there were 7 more ties. Sadie Green-Clark is gaining confidence each game and stepped in on a broken play to set the ball. With the score tied 24-24, the Islanders gave it their all, winning the set, 26-24.
Lili Kuhr started the second set with a service ace, and followed that up with a beautiful hit from the back row. Juliana Medina blocked a Whalers hit and Lauren Gibbs often took charge on a third touch, sending the ball over with a tricky tip. Grace Catherine-Gray got into the action in the front row. Unfortunately, Pierson went on an 11-point streak which put the game out of reach.
The third set was the tie breaker, and after a quick lead by the Islanders, the tough Pierson server once again scored several points in a row. Due in large part to the Islanders missing six serves during the match, at one time the Whalers lead stretched to 11 points.
However, a Kuhr pass, Sobejana set and Gibbs kill reinvigorated the energy and Pierson was forced to call a timeout. In the end, our missed serves were too much to overcome, but the team was happy to see how well we played against the much larger Whaler squad.
The varsity Whalers feature tall hitters who can attack well above the net. The Islanders are working diligently to get our blocking and floor defense more coordinated, and it will pay dividends against such hard attacks as the season progresses.
Mackenzie Speece did well at the net. She was the team’s top hitter for the match with four kills. Dariana Duran Alvarado and Mandy Marcello shared duties as outside hitters. Duran Alvarado has a calm presence on the court and rarely gets flustered. Marcello has great instincts as a blocker, jumping high and redirecting overpasses to unattended spots on the floor. Despite a spirited effort, Pierson took the match in straight sets.
On Saturday, Sept. 9, the varsity and JV squads were on the bus at 6 a.m. JV was headed to Center Moriches and varsity to Eastport-South Manor for a tournament. Tournaments are an excellent way for the teams to see lots of other teams, most of which are not in our league, and have the chance to get lots of playing time.
I love to use this time to mix up lineups, to give players a chance to see how they can contribute at a different position without the pressure of a league win or loss. The varsity team was amazed at the talent and commitment to the sport by some of the athletes. It is inspiring to see students their own age who play club and travel ball and excel at the sport.
The JV tournament had 18 teams, while the varsity had 16. Multiple courts, competing whistles, and the distraction of having a very loud environment can be tough. In the festive atmosphere it is difficult to hear any input from the bench, so I was very proud of the way the athletes focused and helped one another on the court.
Everything from switching up serve receives on the fly and helping teammates get to the correct position was handled by the athletes. In addition to this, the team was organized, prompt and represented the school with class.
Harper Congdon is our libero, and faced tough serves and hard driven hits all day. Rarely off the court, she sported a significant bruise on her arm at the end of the day.
Sophie Clark and Johanna Kaasik are our setters. Normally they split the role, but we used some new lineups to free the other up for hitting duties. Clark also served very well, notching a team high four service aces along with her nine kills.
Susie Kane is gaining confidence and getting more playing time. She has great support from her teammates. Kat Austin is continuing to grow as a volleyball player. She has been a front row specialist and served for the first time in competition, gaining us 2 points in a row as well as continuing to intimidate at the net. Kaity Gulluscio, who was a serving specialist last season, has diversified her role as an outside hitter, but also stepped in on the right side as needed. She also served five points in a row in our playoff game against Half Hollow Hills East.
The HHH games was the most competitive of the day, and long rallies were exciting to watch and to see how the team stepped up to play their best at the end of a long day.
Twelve hours later the teams returned home, tired but proud of the work they had put in.
As the squads reunited on the bus, the JV happily reported that they had won their first-round of playoffs against Kings Park. Smiles and confidence in their improved serving and the fun of just getting more playing time was heartwarming.
The teams will be back at it with two home matches on Sept. 12 against Greenport and Sept. 18 against Southampton. Wednesday, Sept. 20, will feature an away match up against the Ross School, our Class D rivals.