Setting and striving for goals is an important part of athletics. When the Shelter Island varsity volleyball team brainstormed their goals at the start of the season, two players listed winning at least one game this season.
That may seem like a modest aspiration, but in reality there is a huge disparity in size in League VII this year, and as always, Shelter Island is the smallest by a large margin. Nevertheless, as a coach I felt the team was shooting a little low.
On Tuesday, Sept. 13, the Greenport/Southold Clippers arrived in the Shelter Island gym. The Clippers and Islanders are often evenly matched. The last season we played them closely but just couldn’t get the win. This year, we were determined to step it up.
The first set started and a strong server strung many points in a row against us. That was discouraging. Since we’ve been working hard on serve receive and it just wasn’t clicking. The Clippers quickly took the first set 25-11.
The second set was a better showing, with a score of 25-17. This season we’ve often scored 13 to 15 points and then stalled against opponents, so getting to 17 was a small victory. However, it was still a loss.
The Islanders were down two sets to none and facing the real possibility of a 3-set sweep. With their backs to the wall, the team dug deeper. Middle hitter Kat Austin was out sick, so Mackenzie Speece and Mandy Marcello were counted on to be the big presence at the net.
Speece swung away at hits, while Marcello was able to stuff the Clipper offense twice with her blocks. Susie Kane cheered on her teammates, offering advice in team huddles.
The third set the Islanders started moving in sync and communicating more effectively. Unfortunately, both teams missed a lot of serves, slowing any momentum. Greenport missed eight serves while Shelter Island missed six.
But Sophie Clark was determined that the Blue and Gray would take this set and used tricky setter dumps and pure grit to get to balls. She was the top killer-getter with 8 on the match. Tough serves by Dariana Duran Alvarado also kept the Islanders in the game; she had 4 aces on the day. Finally, we had our first set win of the season 25-23.
Still facing an uphill battle —we’d need to win three straight to take the match — we took the court again. Greenport had been moving well earlier in the match, but as their offense sputtered, they got a bit out of sorts. Meanwhile, Shelter Island was becoming more in tune with one another.
With better passing our hitters became more of a threat, with Kaitlyn Gulluscio scoring two kills on error-free hitting for the day. Johanna Kaasik is one of our setters, but she also focused on bringing the team together after each point.
With confidence in another blossoming, expectations high, and roles clarified, we went on to win that set 25-21.
The match, now tied two at two, went to the tiebreaker. The deciding set for varsity is now only to 15 points. That means the team must start fast and push on relentlessly so Greenport wouldn’t have a chance to rally for a comeback. Both teams played hard. Harper Congdon served an ace to pull the team ahead 11-6, but the Clippers fought back.
The Islanders wouldn’t have it, and as the final ball dropped the score stood at 15-12, Islanders. We took the long road, but we have our first league win of the season.
The ecstatic team gathered in our post-game huddle. Pride radiated from the group of hard-working athletes. Winning one match isn’t a terribly high bar. But winning with so much more of the season in front of us feels amazing.
This confidence in one another will carry us as we face the larger teams and Class D competitors. It’s just the start, but it feels good to have checked off that goal.
As the team waited for the Clippers team to arrive, music was playing. JAY-Z and Alicia Keys’ “New York” got the players and fans grooving in the stands and on the bench. That upbeat attitude carried over to the start of the game.
The Clippers JV program has athletes from Southold and Greenport, and has enough players to field two separate JV teams. During the first set the Clippers jumped out to a 3-0 lead, but a nice kill by Lauren Gibbs started to change the momentum.
Mae Brigham who was playing middle hitter this match made some heads-up tips. Great serves by Elliot Schack extended the lead, and Sadie Green-Clark ended the set with an ace, cutting a comeback run by the Clippers short, 25-19.
During the second set, it was again evident that momentum can swing quickly. Greenport started with a 3-point lead, which they stretched to a 16-10 cushion. But the Islanders started getting better passes and using three hits. Juliana Medina got the ball to Quinn Sobejana who set it up to Brigham for a kill.
The Islanders stormed back to tie the score 19-19, and then the two teams traded points. Coaches and Grace Catherine-Gray did their best to send energy from the bench and at the end of the game we held off 4 set points before falling just short 24-26.
The third set was a tie breaker. Lili Kuhr passed some nice balls from the back row before a tricky short serve allowed the Clippers to creep out to a lead at mid-game. Despite a nice ace by Kuhr, the last points went to Greenport for a final score of 25-21.
Coach Sweeney was pleased with how the team adjusted to their new roles on the court. She noted that the team was scrappy and was communicating better. Emphasis on putting the ball over with control will pay dividends as the season progresses.
This week features three matches. Both squads have two matches at home: Southampton on Monday, Sept. 18, and a tough Port Jeff squad on Friday, Sept. 22.
The varsity team will travel to the Ross School on Wednesday, Sept. 20 for a very important match. Since Ross is the only other Class D school in the league, this early match already has playoff implications. Come support the team! ‘