It is so exciting to watch young athletes as they start a new season. The Shelter Island School junior high volleyball team is filled with enthusiastic players, and they have had a very nice start so far this year.
The first week of competition began directly following the Thanksgiving break. On Monday, Nov. 27, the team traveled to Mattituck. Although they lost all 5 sets, both they and Coach Kristin Sweeney were happy with their inaugural outing. Four players — Emily Shepherd, Elizabeth Weslek, Ella Fundora and Lily Potter — all got serves over. They also learned that they “need to talk more and trust our instincts,” as Coach Sweeney put it.
The next day was their home opener against Southold. Twelve players were qualified to play, while three additional were still getting enough practices to compete in a match. Once again, the team played five sets, this time winning two of them.
I was happy to see the nice form and mechanics of their emerging passing skills. While many kids practice throwing balls in their yard or have basketball hoops, volleyball’s specific movements often aren’t taught until middle school. It takes time for these new motor patterns to become established.
Lily Brigham and Regina Kolmogorova-Weisenberg both are doing a great job with their passing. Coach Sweeney also reports that Aisley Davidson, who is still accumulating practices to play in the games, is a natural passer.
I was also impressed with the team’s movement to the ball. Much of team sports hinges on knowing and trusting that your teammate will get to the ball. At this point of the season there hasn’t been the time to build that confidence, but it is obvious everyone is willing to try. To the joy of their teammates, Lexi Bartilucci and Michelle Martinez paired up for a nice three-hit play, with Bartilucci putting over a Martinez save.
The serving, a big part of the 7th and 8th grade game, was strong against the Settlers. Kylie Kuhr put 10 serves into play, while Fundora totaled 13. Danielle Rasmussen also got her serve in, resulting in a supportive shout of support from the team.
The third match of the week was on Thursday, November 30. With a few players absent, only 11 were able to suit up for the Greenport Purple match, which meant that only three sets would be played. Makayla Cronin and Natalie Mamisashvili made their first starts against the Porters, both showing nice instincts on the court.
Several Greenport players used an underhand serve which is often more reliable for beginning players. The Islanders focus on using overhead serves, a harder skill to learn initially, but more effective in the long run. Eliza McCarthy notched her first serve in a game, while Jayla Jones’s confidence soared as she served successfully seven times, including two aces. Lily Potter also served very well, including four points in a row.
Greenport won the first two sets, but the Islanders didn’t back down, focusing and working even harder in the third. The score was fairly close the entire set, with first one team in the lead, then the other making a comeback. At the end of the set the score was tied 24-24. As the ball dropped for the home team’s advantage, the Islanders began to celebrate, as normally the game is played to 25. However, as in tennis, you need to win by two. After a few tense points, Elizabeth Weslek served an ace for the Islanders to win 27-25.
The support from family and friends for the team is heartwarming. Younger siblings, some of whom make unannounced appearances on the court, are seeing their older sisters in action and getting inspired. The team itself is very supportive of one another. I love to see high fives exchanged after a nice play, or in encouragement of a teammate who missed a ball.
Coach Sweeney is looking forward to developing the team further and getting beyond the basics of passing and serving. From what I’ve seen in practice and competition, this team is eager to learn the finer points of setting and hitting. These more advanced skills will take time to incorporate, but this crew is willing to put in the work. After this past week’s fast start, their next games slow in pace to one per week. Dec. 4 they are home against the Mattituck Gold squad, then away against Greenport Gold on Dec. 12. Come support the team!