On Jan. 3, I was given the opportunity to attend one of the Shelter Island junior high volleyball games as an Alumni, where I was immediately reminded of my love for the game: it’s energy, the cheers of the crowd, the not-so-comfortable the blue and gray bleachers that span across the front wall of the gym.
Being a part of the Shelter Island volleyball team throughout middle school and high school years was always my favorite thing about attending Shelter Island School. When you step onto the court for your first day of practice, you learn that you aren’t just a team, you are a family.
And being a part of this family taught me a variety of skills both on and off the court, such as teamwork and sportsmanship.
Walking into the gym, I felt a sense of pride, looking across the court at this year’s junior high team, ready to take on Mattituck. Seeing such a large team of young athletes had me grinning ear to ear. It was wonderful to see that, even at our small school, there is still so much participation in sports.
The Shelter Island team began the game with a traditional display of sportsmanship that I remember from my days in the gym. The starting lineup organized themselves on the back line of the court, while the rest of the team gathered on the sideline, waiting to cheer and high-five their teammates as they stepped onto the court.
Volleyball is a game of the best of three sets. The first set got off to a shaky start, with Mattituck leading the set over Shelter Island by 6 points. I remember being in those girls’ shoes during the first set. It’s not easy being put on the spot after being on break for the holidays; you get a little rusty.
But the girls shook off that rust and held their own with beauty and grace against strong serves from Mattituck. Regina Kolmogorova-Weisenberg took charge of the court, patrolling the setter’s corner with steady hands making quick work of sending the ball back over the net after receiving it from her teammates, while team captain Lily Potter dished out powerful serves into Mattituck’s court.
The pace of the second set had me on the edge of my seat. The Shelter Island girls came out fast, with a forceful serve leading to a back-and-forth rally that demonstrated the girl’s teamwork and cooperation on the court. Shelter Island was sending serves over faster than Mattituck could react, and each serve was different, keeping the Mattituck girls on their toes.
There were several flawless float serves that fell right out of Mattituck’s reach, dropping perfectly along the net or sideline, while some of our other servers delivered high-powered blows that sent the ball to the far back corners of the court, a tactic that gained the Islanders a short lead over Mattituck.
Rallies are a personal favorite when playing or watching volleyball, they’re suspenseful, quick moments in a game where every player gets to shine and show off; Shelter Island did just that. Every girl got a touch on the ball, creating coordinated plays to direct the set back into Mattituck’s court, giving the girls a chance to reset and get ready for the ball to come back.
The Islanders stood ready for anything, and by the third set held the lead with four consecutive aces from Ella Fundora, and deep left-hand corner serves by Elizabeth Weslek.
At the end of the competitive sets, Mattituck walked away with the win. But to the Island girls, showing impeccable sportsmanship, winning wasn’t everything, and they went on to play practice sets with Mattituck for an opportunity to grow their skills not just as individuals but as a team.
I am proud of these girls and how they upheld the elements of sportsmanship and teamwork that Shelter Island School has been recognized for decades.
I’m looking forward to watching the junior high volleyball team grow as young athletes and as a team.
Grace Olinkiewicz played volleyball for Shelter Island School for five years in junior high and on the junior varsity and varsity teams. She graduated in 2021 and is currently an English major at Stony Brook University pursuing a career in journalism and writing.