The day after the final league match of the volleyball season is always a hard transition for me. There is the finished business: League records have been established, playoff brackets are soon to be set, and the junior varsity season is officially over. There is a noticeable shift in energy, a pause, before we gear up for the next phase.
To be sure, taking a breath after the grinding season is needed. Plenty of bruises need healing and sore joints could use some rest. Early mornings and late nights paired with juggling back-to-back-to-back responsibilities is difficult.
However, there is also the unfinished business. Once the regular season is done, Shelter Island volleyball is often in the enviable position to continue onto playoffs. This past Friday, we received the exciting news that Shelter Island is the outright winner of the Suffolk County Class D title. We need to keep our eyes on the prize, a regional playoff match to be played in early November, which would give us the chance to go to the New York State semifinals (a.k.a “States”) in Glens Falls in mid-November.
Unfortunately, the team will be moving on without Mackenzie Speece. She is busy healing an injury and will likely be sitting out the remainder of the season. That means her steady presence at middle hitter needs to be replaced. Even teams who cover the court well have trouble getting to her well-placed shots and serves, and we will sorely miss her.
During the last league match at Mattituck, versatile Mandy Marcello filled that role, but it leaves us with a very thin bench. Sophie Clark and Johanna Kaasik will continue to run the floor as setters and hit on the right side, occasionally assisted by Susie Kane.
Harper Congdon has owned the libero position all season, while Kat Austin in middle and Kaitlyn Gulluscio and Dariana Duran Alvarado on the outside will be looking to further increase their offensive capabilities.
I have full confidence that this team will continue to improve and bring their best game possible to the playoffs.
The JV team ended their season against Mattituck on Oct. 18. With all players seeing court time, and respectable scores against the Tuckers, it was a nice way to close the season.
The team has really improved since the start of the season. Sadie Green-Clark and Juliana Medina are the only 9th graders, and their court sense and serving consistency and power have increased dramatically.
The remainder of the athletes are sophomores. Keili Osorio Lopez has been the team manager this season, taking stats and cheering on the team. Grace Catherine-Gray’s skills are markedly better. Lili Kuhr packs so much power into her small frame — her fierce serve and willingness to call for back row hits often take opponents by surprise.
Both Elliot Schack and Quinn Sobejana have embraced the difficult role of setter. Schack’s focus on making faster in-play decisions has led to noticeably better results from hitters. Sobejana is very quick and covers the court well, getting touches on even the most difficult passes.
Mae Brigham and Lauren Gibbs are honing both their skills and knowledge of their roles within the flow of the game. Brigham is improving her hitting skills, taking advantage of her height by getting to the net and ready to hit. Gibbs is very active on the court, often both receiving serve and immediately calling for balls on offense.
As an assistant to Coach Kristin Sweeney, I often get to overhear the jokes and comments as the team gathers in a huddle. Their favorite cheer this year has been the viral, “Never back down, never what? Never give up!” It has been a delight to watch all the players gain confidence and pride in their accomplishments, along with never giving up.
As their season ends the JV players are now invited to attend the varsity practices. We can use the reinforcement in numbers while the younger players also gain experience for next fall when some will be moving up to varsity.
Another proud end-of-the-season moment came when JV players expressed interest in assisting with junior high volleyball practices, which start in early November. Having come through the program and seeing the great improvement in their own game, they can now give advice to the younger athletes. Paying it forward and sharing the love of the game is one of my goals as a coach. Looks like the team got the message.
Next up: Fine tuning the skills and teamwork of the varsity team. Playoffs here we come!