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Volleyball

The Kings Park girls volleyball team, above, takes its annual team photo before heading to states, which has become a tradition within the successful program. Photo from Erika Benson

The Kings Park girls volleyball team has been there seven straight times, but this time, the result was different.

The 20-0 Kingsmen were confident as they headed upstate, blasting Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” to get excited to compete in the state championship at Glens Falls Civic Center Nov. 18 and 19.

The Kings Park girls volleyball team celebrates on the
court after winning a state set. Photo from Erika
Benson

“We knew that we had all the tools to be successful, and we were anxious to get on the court and execute,” senior Lexi Petraitis said. “We’re such a tight-knit team, but what hurt us a little bit was that our nerves didn’t kick in until the first serve of our first set.”

After splitting pool play sets 3-3, Kings Park was eliminated from contention for Sunday’s state championship, but outscored Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake to salvage a third-place finish. Last year, the Kingsmen made it to the final match where they fell to Walter Panas in straight sets.

“There were sets where everything just clicked,” Petraitis said. “We had Meagan Murphy getting sick digs, which made it easy for Haley [Holmes] to set perfect sets, which our big hitters, me, seniors Kara Haase, Erika Benson, Sam Schultz and freshman Liv Benard, slammed into the ground. I think we played to our absolute fullest potential. Out on the court our energy was electric. There were just a few sets that didn’t really go our way.”

Kings Park faced Williamsville East first, dropping set one 26-24 before coming back to win the second 25-12.

“We gelled more during that second set and then throughout the day we just had to realize what worked and what didn’t and change things up,” senior Benson said. “Our ultimate goal is to place first, but third is still something very special, something that we’re proud of. It’s been a great season with my team and I really loved every minute of it.”

Haley Holmes reaches for a save with Meagan Murphy
and Megan Sticco alongside her to back her up.
Photo from Haley Holmes

Benson said she appreciated how supportive everyone in the district community was. The team was sent off to states escorted by the Kings Park Fire Department and led by the high school’s marching band, with members of the high school and elementary school marching, too. The positive mindset carried through the weekend even as the team stumbled in trying to capture a state championship.

“We practiced hard all year with states in the back of our minds — entering the tournament, our mindset was to take it one set at a time and to not look too far ahead,” senior setter  Holmes said. “We ended up not executing the way we had hoped, but we stayed positive and worked as a team. We performed great, but it’s the state tournament, every team there is elite.”

The Kingsmen amped up the intensity in the semifinals, battling for every point in a 25-19, 25-22 win.

“I feel like we had moments where we weren’t so sharp, but as the day went on we straightened it out,” senior Haase said. “Being a Kingsman has been the greatest honor and I look forward to seeing the
program grow.”

Benson agreed, adding how much she wishes others could share in the seasoned legacy her team has experienced.

“Being a Kingsman is something most people will never experience and I wish they could,” she said. “It’s really an amazing thing, especially with this team, knowing I have 17 best friends and sisters that I can depend on. It’s really special to me and I don’t take it for granted. I just wish I had more time with them.”

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Haley Holmes is used to lending a helping hand.

But what was maybe unexpected was six service aces that went along with her 31 assists in Kings Park’s girls volleyball team’s 3-0 sweep of South Side Nov. 11, 25-15, 25-13, 25-16, for the Kingsmen’s seventh straight Long Island championship crown.

Haley Holmes recorded 71 combined assists in the Suffolk County and Long Island title games. Photo by Bill Landon

Head coach Ed Manly said her floating serve has some spin-drop action to it, making it more difficult for defenders to return. She showed that during a 6-0 run in the second set, which she recorded two aces during.

Holmes received many of senior libero Meagan Murphy’s passes throughout the game to set up Erika Benson (10 kills), Lexi Petraitis (eight kills), Kara Haase (three kills) and Samantha Schultz (three kills).

“Hitters like Lexi, Sam, Kara and Erika — I can count on them to put my ball away,” Holmes said.

The aggressive attack action is what Manly said he prefers seeing from his athletes.

“When we’re aggressive on offense is when we play some of our best volleyball,” he said. “But sometimes through the course of a match, there are ebbs and flows.”

Having multiple weapons on offense and defense is what is leading Kings Park to another state tournament appearance.

In the No. 1 Kingsmen’s 25-13, 25-23, 25-15 shutout of Westhampton Beach Nov. 9, the team relied more on its defense to take the title.

“Our defense and our blocking is what won the game for us today,” said Haase after the Suffolk game, who’d finished with seven kills. “We had so many touches on the ball; [Westhampton] didn’t have one outside hit that we didn’t have a touch. It was just a great overall performance.”

Alexa Petraitis slams down one of her 18 kills on the week. Photo by Bill Landon

Holmes, who recorded 40 assists, was also quick to point to the team’s defense across the postseason.

“We always have great defense in the back row,” Holmes said. “We have Megan Sticco and a bunch of people I can always count on to get the ball to me. We’ve also been working on a huge block with Erika, and that’s helped us a lot in the past few games.”

While the offense was there too — Murphy finished with 33 digs; Benson notched 12 kills and three blocks; Schultz added eight kills; and Haase had seven — the serving was sloppy for Kings Park in the second set of the county win, according to Manly.

“In that second set Westhampton picked up its defense and we got into some trouble were we didn’t serve particularly well in certain points,” he said. “We had a hard time putting balls away [because] they’re a solid defensive team. We didn’t hit a very high percentage and that’s a tribute to their defense.”

Schultz said she isn’t concerned about what other teams are doing though.

“I knew that if we played the way we’re supposed to play we would definitely get the job done,” she said. “I wasn’t concerned about what they were doing, but what we can control and how we can play. And if we did that we’d get it done.”

Meagan Murphy returns the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

Kings Park is confident it can continue to use every weapon in its arsenal while chasing the elusive state title. On top of extending their county and Long Island volleyball reign, the Kingsmen have now racked up 20 wins in a perfect season. Kings Park has also been dominant in sweeping all but one team, Half Hollow Hills West in a 3-1 win Oct. 11.

The team will be tested this weekend, as Kings Park enters the state tournament facing undefeated Walter Panas in the first round at Glens Falls Civic Center Nov. 18.

“We’re really excited to go up there, and we know we can actually do it,” Murphy said. “We’ve been looking at Panas, and we really think we can beat them and all the rest of the teams up there.”

While Holmes will be assisting in any way she can, she said her Kingsmen have all the pieces in place for the checkmate this time around.

“It’s our heart,” Holmes said has led her team to seven county and Long Island wins, and what could lead Kings Park to its first state title. “If we just play to our potential — with our dedication — if we bring our ‘A’ game, we’re tough to beat.”

Bill Landon contributed reporting

What would a victory be without a trophy? We faced that awful question this week.

In the championship game, my daughter’s volleyball team battled their opponent and their nerves to win that coveted trophy, to claim the top honors in their division, and to cap off a successful and rewarding season that involved floor burns, mishits, turned ankles and all manner of emotional challenges as they went toe-to-toe with teams in gyms filled with exuberant fans.

Nothing went right in the beginning of the match. They gave away point after point, until the unflappable coach, whose only sign of anxiety was a few extra gulps of water, called timeout and told the team to relax and play their game.

They were down 12-2 in a 25-point game. Maybe, my wife and I thought, they’d make the first game respectable, get their bearings and then win the second and third games. The benefit of a best-of-three-game set is that they didn’t have to win the first game.

And then a funny thing happened on the way to a potential lopsided loss. They pulled themselves together and they made important shots that landed just inside the line. Momentum, which is such an intangible, shifted quickly, forcing the other coach to call a hasty timeout.

Ultimately, they won that first set, 25-23. The second set was closer throughout, but they also won that one, 25-20, leading to a euphoric celebration. They took turns holding a trophy, which had a volleyball figurine and a plaque.

The coach handed the trophy to my daughter, who was the captain. She cradled it like it was an infant, passing it gently to her teammates who posed for their own pictures with the team’s prize. She got to take the trophy home for the weekend. I drove her friend and her to a diner for some celebratory curly fries and raced home to relatives who were eating a wider variety of food.

After the meal, I offered to take Uncle Jordan, who had come out from the city, back to the train. My wife graciously suggested he sit in the front seat. As soon as he sat down, he asked, “Hey, what’s that?”

Yup, he sat on the trophy, wounding our daughter’s “baby.” When I turned on the light in the car, I saw that the figurine was still intact, but the plaque dangled at an angle.

Jordan laughed. Our son was in hysterics. My wife, who was in the back seat, laughed nervously, while I considered going into panic mode, wondering if I should call the factory in Singapore to ask it to ship another trophy overnight.

We thought about gluing the pieces back together, but that would be like bringing a messy art project to school. Maybe we could take it out of the car and run over it 20 times, and then say we lost it. No, destroying it wasn’t the answer.

“Take it to Home Depot,” Jordan suggested.

What if they couldn’t fix it? What would we tell our daughter?

When she got to our house that night, I did everything I could to keep her from asking about, or looking for, the coveted trophy.

The next morning, we raced to Home Depot, where a couple of good-humored men at the tool rental section got to work. Fortunately, they repaired it. When we returned, we shared the story with our daughter who laughed, too, even as she compared the pictures of the trophy from the night before to the rescued object in her hand. Somehow, like her team, the trophy endured.

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Smithtown East's Allie Brady spikes the ball over Patchogue-Medford defenders reaching for the block. Photo by Bill Landon
Smithtown East’s Brooke Berroyer smacks down one of her 11 kill shots. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

No. 3 Smithtown East’s girls volleyball team breezed through the opening round of the Class AA playoffs Oct. 30, taking down No. 14 Patchogue-Medford in three sets 25-13, 25-16, 25-13.

Senior outside hitter Brooke Berroyer, who had 11 kills and was strong from the service line, said she was surprised by what the Raiders brought to the court.

“They were better than I was expecting them to be — they had really good defense, their block are pretty big, but I think our defense played really well today,” she said. “Our setter, [senior Marissa Oliveri, who had 35 assists], was moving the ball around today, we had a lot of different hitters today, we were all hitting very effectively.”

Senior middle Steph Berdon went on serve streak with Berroyer to put the Bulls out front 10-4 in the opening set, forcing Pat-Med to call the first timeout of the afternoon. The break didn’t help the Raiders though, as Smithtown East surged ahead 21-11 as the visitors called for another pause.

Smithtown East’s Marissa Oliveri sets up a play. Photo by Bill Landon

Berroyer picked up where she left off, gaining more Bulls points from the service line until the score was 9-5. Junior outside hitter Katy Curran slammed a kill shot from high above the net before Pat-Med asked for another timeout.

The Raiders were able to keep pace from there, trailing by four points until the Bulls stepped on the gas and broke out to a 23-15 advantage.

Senior outside hitter Allie Brady also noted Patchogue-Medford’s defense despite the score.

“Their defense was amazing, it was tough to get the ball to hit the floor,” she said. “We had good communication and trust in each other and that built confidence.”

Oliveri continued to help set up plays as Smithtown East jumped out to an 8-1 advantage in the third, but pointed to her teammates, who she said lightened her load.

“I thought our passing was amazing — they were making my job easier, it easier for the hitters to get their swings on every ball,” she said. “They fought hard, and we had to step up our game and push through.”

Smithtown East’s Felicity Hoffert, who tallied 10 kills, tries to put the ball past a Raiders block. Photo by Bill Landon

With the help of junior right side hitter Felicity Hoffert, who finished with 10 kills, the Bulls edged ahead 19-11 before closing out the set.

Smithtown East has now won its last five games, and head coach George Alamia said he never doubted what his team is capable of, especially with many of his athletes prior experience in the postseason.

“It’s a playoff game; it’s a mentality, and we had that tonight,” he said. “We’ve been here before — a lot of these kids have been in long playoff runs — so they know that they can’t let up.”

Smithtown East is back in action Nov. 1 hosting No. 6 Ward Melville at 5 p.m.

“We’re pretty versatile with our offense — our top four hitters were right around each other 10 or 11 kills, not one person dominated our play,” Alamia said. “We’ll challenge them to get better in certain areas but our ball control is great, we pulled away with our defense in this game and that gives us a chance to win any round.”

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Meagan Murphy digs out a serve receive. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Erika Benson slams the ball over the net. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Megan Murphy dug deep to pull out a win — quite literally Monday.

The senior libero threw herself all over the court to record 31 digs in a 3-0 sweep of Hauppauge Oct. 23, 25-14, 25-17, 25-10, to cap off Kings Park girls volleyball’s second straight undefeated League V season.

“Megan Murphy in the back row was strong on defense,” Kings Park head coach Ed Manly said. “Very rarely are you going to catch her off guard or get her to shank a ball during the course of play.”

With Hauppauge as close as 12-10 midway through the first set, three straight Kings Park points — a Hauppauge out-of-bounds hit, an Alexa Petraitis (eight kills) spike and a Kara Haas dump over — forced the Eagles to call timeout. The scoring streak was only briefly interrupted after the break, and Kings Park slammed home four more to make it 19-11. Murphy closed out serving on the last four of five Kings Park points, until an out of bounds serve made it 24-14 and a Hauppauge service error closed out the set.

“I don’t say this selfishly — we’ve been doing this for so long and I’m so honored to play with this team,” said Petraitis, a senior outside hitter. “Everything I do is because of my team, because of how much support I have. Hauppauge was great at getting the ball up, and we did great staying mentally focused, ready for it to come back over the net.”

Kara Haas serves the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Hauppauge was strong serving, and returning it. In the second set, the Eagles were cruising right alongside Kings Park, forcing five ties. A Petraitis kill put the Kingsmen up 6-5, but Hauppauge bounced right back to tie the score at 8-8 and again at 10-10.

“Hauppauge is always extremely scrappy and they make it hard to put balls away,” Manly said. “Every time we tried to tip or do something unconventional they picked it up, but we stayed consistent swinging at the ball and keeping the offense strong.”

Manly said his team worked on defensive drills, like service receives, to prepare for Hauppauge, but he still thinks his team has work to do heading into the postseason.

“That’s my biggest issue with my team — we’re pretty powerful offensively, but we rest on our laurels and let down a little bit on the defensive side,” he said. “But we weathered the storm.”

Senior Erika Benson (12 kills) took the game over, as the middle hitter spiked the ball for a big kill and a 12-10 advantage that gave Kings Park the push it needed.

Haley Holmes sets up a play. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“I thought when times were getting rough — we were in a little bit of a slump — we worked hard to get out of it quickly to move on to the next play,” Benson said. “Coach tells us to get ready for the next point. We’re never thinking ahead, we’re just thinking of what we can do to get that point.”

Right up the middle the team began clicking, with Murphy returning the serve, Haley Holmes (39 assists) setting up the play and Benson driving shots to the ground.

“Haley Holmes did a nice job setting,” Manly said. “She sets a really consistent ball, she didn’t get called for any doubles, lifts or carries, and she spreads the ball on offense really, really well. Erika Benson overpowers people in the middle, and up the middle with our libero, setter and middle is where our bread is buttered and that pretty much carried us tonight.”

Kings Park is the No. 1 seed heading into the playoffs, which begin Oct. 30. The Kingsmen won’t play again until November thanks to a first-round bye.

Meagan Murphy celebrates Kings Park’s undefeated League V season. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“I’m really excited to see what happens with this team,” Murphy said.

Graduating just one senior from last year’s team, Benson said her team’s accomplishments, including helping to win the seventh straight league title for Kings Park, means a lot to the seniors, who are following in the footsteps of those in years past, losing just one regular-season game in their entire careers.

“Being able to keep this League V title is pretty special,” she said. “Every season we have one goal: to win states. It’s always in the back of our minds and it helps us push through to win every game.”

Manly said he doesn’t see the streak weighing too heavily on the girls, because they’re focused on that one goal.

“They’re a pretty relaxed bunch — they’re more focused on their goals than about what’s happened in the past,” he said. “They’re focused on every point, every set and every match. I love my team very much, I think they’re extremely talented and I think the sky is the limit for them as long as they stay humble and hungry and don’t overlook anybody. They have the capability to do some pretty special stuff.”

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Newfield's Olivia Bond saves the Wolverines from losing a point. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The Newfield girls volleyball team came roaring back from a first-set loss to take the next three for a 3-1 nonleague win over visiting Walt Whitman Oct. 10, 19-25, 25-22, 25-23, 25-19.

Newfield’s Madison Wenzel serveds the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

Newfield took its first lead on a point that put the Wolverines ahead 7-6 in the second set. The team made several mental errors and was caught looking at two inbound balls as Walt Whitman bounced right back to tie the set 15-15. After a handful of long volleys, Newfield found its rhythm and rattled off three unanswered points, and after a brief hiccup scored two more to edge ahead 20-16.

Coming out of a Wildcats timeout, Newfield capitalized on Walt Whitman miscues, and senior outside hitter Olivia Bond smacked a break point kill shot over the net to propel the Wolverines to the win.

“At first our energy wasn’t up, and in the second set we knew we needed to win,” Bond said. “Walt Whitman was really good at scrambling, but we pulled it together. We pushed, and once we bring our energy up, we can do anything.”

Walt Whitman stretched in the third set to break out to an 18-12 advantage. Newfield came out of a timeout call refreshed, and chipped away at the deficit until the Wolverines tied the set 19-19. Both teams traded points, and again Walt Whitman was back on top, 22-21. That is, until Newfield senior Naomi Ruffalo-Roman had something to say about it. She sent a kill shot over the net to tie the set 22-22, and scored twice more from the service line to bring her team to the finish line.

“We made more mistakes than we would like,” Ruffalo-Roman said. “But we worked really hard towards the end and our hitting was much better.”

Newfield’s Naomi Ruffalo-Roman spikes the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

The Wolverines knew they had to come out strong in the fourth set to avoid a fifth, and took charge from behind the line as senior libero Jessica Clark went on a service scoring streak that put Newfield ahead 18-10.

“Whitman is a really good team — they were scrambling, so we had to gather it up,” Clark said. “Our team played better from [the second set], but we need to focus on our serving — we hit a lot into the net.”

Newfield junior Jeanette Bruni got busy from behind the line as the left-handed hitter found holes on the other side of the net to put her team out front 22-15. The team ran away with the game from there.

Ruffalo-Roman had 18 kills and 10 digs to lead Newfield, now at 5-5 overall, and junior setter Madison Wenzel added 36 assists and three aces.

“They got to a lot of balls and they kept the ball in play,” Newfield head coach Christy Innes said of Walt Whitman. “They are very young and we knew we had to out-hustle them because that team can get their hands on a lot of balls that other teams can’t.”

Newfield is back in action hosting Smithtown East Oct. 13 in a League III matchup at 5:45 p.m.

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By Desirée Keegan

Brooke Berroyer loves the burst of adrenaline she gets out on the volleyball court, and her team’s current winning streak certainly seems to be getting her engine revving.

Smithtown East’s Brooke Berroyer celebrates a point. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“Playing gives me such a rush — especially when you’re playing with such great players and you see all the hard work culminate in a win,” the senior setter and right side said. “We go to practice every day and work hard; we all trust each other a lot. I would never be able to play and set the people that I do if I didn’t trust them.”

That trust and confidence led Smithtown East to its seventh straight win Oct. 2 with a 3-0 sweep of Copiague, 25-18, 25-16, 25-23. Berroyer finished with 14 assists and eight digs in the win, but she credited teammate Allie Brady for getting the team to the No. 1 spot in the League III standings.

“Allie Brady is our powerhouse,” she said of the senior outside hitter. “No one can stop her. She puts the ball down every time. She’s our best player right now.”

Brady came through for Smithtown East in crucial situations, like when her back-to-back kills put the Bulls up 12-7 in the first set, or when her spike stopped Copiague’s momentum after three straight points, leading to three straight Smithtown East points in the second set.

“We believe in each other,” said Brady, who had 12 kills and 11 digs in the win. “We have great leaders on this team. All of us seniors work hard to get the team going in the right direction and the rest follow our lead. We always have each other’s back.”

The senior gave credit to the Bulls’ juniors that contributed to the win, and Berroyer recognized one in particular: Michelle Husslein.

Smithtown East’s Alex Colón receives a Copiague serve. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Husslein, an outside hitter, added a handful of service aces in a close third set, and closed out the match serving on the final two points, the second an ace to win the game.

“She’s a junior with a really strong serve, and it’s tough getting on that line, especially as an underclassman,”Berroyer said.

Husslein was filling in for the injured senior middle Steph Berdon, and Smithtown East head coach George Alamia pointed to his junior’s standout performance among others helping to fill the space.

“She was a spark plug,” he said of Husslein. “She hasn’t played a lot, and she was among several players that stepped in to play today, and she played really well.”

Alamia was quick to point to the stellar serving throughout the evening from not only Husslein, but the rest of the squad as well. In total, nine players added to the Bulls’ 41 service aces, accounting for a little less than 55 percent of Smithtown East’s total points.

“Our service team was excellent,” Alamia said. “Game three we had a lot of our bench in with starters sprinkled in. Michelle [Husslein] on the line changed the game — she ran off five or six points and gave us confidence. Logan Kozlowski is a nice young setter coming up and she also got some great opportunities today in the third game.”

Smithtown East’s Allie Brady spikes the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The Bulls remain undefeated at 7-0 on their quest to take their 11th straight League III title this season. Senior libero Alex Colón, who had 14 digs and 16 service receptions, said she’s moved by what her team has already done this year.

“It’s inspiring,” she said of the run. “At the beginning of the season it was a little rough — we all had to learn to work together [after losing seven senior starters to graduation]. We work harder than any team in the gym, we’re communicating and controlling the ball, and that’s key to getting our momentum going. When we come together and play as a team nothing can stop us.”

Smithtown East faces off against crosstown rival Smithtown West for the second time this season Oct. 4 at 5:45 p.m. Smithtown East edged its opponent 3-1 in close sets to open the season Sept. 9. Smithtown West is currently 7-2 overall and 7-1 in league play.

“This team has pressure on them — they want a league championship, they expect it and they’re looking to get it,” Alamia said. “Every year West is a challenge, and I think we’re ready for it — we’re all in. These girls are hungry for he league title, they’re focused, we’re going to have a great practice and we’re going to give them everything we have. I think we’re ready to take what’s ours.”

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The Ward Melville girls volleyball team celebrates a point.

By Desirée Keegan

The Patriots are starting to roll, and aren’t showing any signs of slowing down.

The Ward Melville girls volleyball team pulled away from Longwood 25-11, 25-20, 25-14 for its fifth sweep and sixth straight win of the season Sept. 19 to remain undefeated.

Allie Sturgess continues the volley. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Head coach Charlie Fernandes said he hasn’t been afraid his team was going to lose, but thought in earlier games this season the Patriots eased up on its opponents. As of late, he said he’s enjoying seeing his Patriots (6-0 overall, 4-0 League I) play with fire to the end of matches.

“We want to play everybody as hard as we can and I thought in an earlier match this year we were performing well, but we let up a little,” he said. “Today we played all out the whole time and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Ward Melville jumped out to an early 8-4 lead and scored four straight points before a Longwood hit slammed into the middle of the Patriots defense. The Lions hit out of bounds on the next serve and then an out-of-bounds hit handed Ward Melville two of its next three points before Longwood called timeout. The team still couldn’t regroup from there, and the Patriots cruised to the end of the set.

“Game one was very efficient and we started filtering the other kids in,’” Fernandes said. “I thought everyone did a great job.”

Ward Melville junior middle blocker Morgan Persky, who had four blocks, said her team wanted to bring the same high level of play and energy onto the court against Longwood that it did Sept. 15 at Smithtown West. After winning the first set against Longwood by 14 points, she said she thought her team again took its foot off the gas.

Molly Fernandes serves the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“We came into the second set a little bit more relaxed, and we made some unforced errors,” she said.

The teams stayed neck and neck throughout most of the set. Ward Melville held advantages early and jumped ahead by five points at 11-6, but Longwood closed the gap over the next few minutes to tie the set at 12-12 and again at 16-16. Fernandes called timeout to get his players on the same page, and despite jumping ahead again, Longwood tied the game at 20-20 before the Patriots closed the set scoring the final five points. Sophomore libero Molly Cronin finished with 10 digs, and senior libero Molly Fernandes and sophomore outside hitter Jamie Agostino each had eight digs.

“After the timeout at 16-16 in the second set we realized that we needed to step it up,” Persky said. “I felt that we played much better after that and took control of the court from that point forward. This year, we have been very strong offensively from both the net and the service line.”

The team had holes to fill in the lineup after most of the starters were lost to graduation before this year, but senior setter Courtney Heaney said her team has adjusted well.

“A lot of us have been playing together for a long time,” she said. “We all play club together, and I think we have really good energy on the court, and togetherness, which helps to fill in those gaps left from last year.”

Courtney Heaney sets the ball up for an Anna Brun kill. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Fernandes said the return of two now senior outside hitters in Ashley Fuchs and Ryen Cinski has also put the team in the position it’s in.

“No one knows about them because they both sat out last year with ACL injuries,” he said. “On the court and off the court we have a tight-knit group and that always matters. I think something good is happening here.”

Heaney also gave a glowing review of her two teammates returning from injuries.

“They’re better than ever,” she said of the two outside hitters. “They’ve been doing really well — [they provide] big energy out there. Our biggest players are our outsides. We’re doing really great things this year and I’m really excited about it. We’re on a really great path.”

Persky said the team is working on maintaining its aggressiveness no matter who is on the other side of the court or what the scoreboard says, and Fernandes said he expects that killer instinct to come in time.

“We’re going to work on our defense,” he said, laughing. “It’s mid-September, so the coaches and I joke that there’s certain things we haven’t even worked on with the team yet in practice, and we’re already this good. For the first time in a long time we have a bench that I go to without blinking. We’re a good, strong volleyball team. Heck, this is a tremendous volleyball team, and I think we’re going to be in it at the end.”

Smithtown east's Matthew Wertheim goes up for the kill shot. Photo by Bill Landon
Smithtown East’s Daniel Murphy serves the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Led by the power hitting of Matthew Wertheim and Daniel Murphy, Smithtown East got the best of the Northport’s boys volleyball team, taking the away victory in four sets 25-17, 25-21, 22-25 and 25-21 in Division I action Sept. 19.

“We kind of let up a little bit — we didn’t play as well as we did in the first two sets, but we found a way to get back,” Murphy said. “Northport was a challenge, they came out hard. At first we had them, but then we slumped a little bit.”

Both teams came to the court with identical 3-1 records. The Tigers, coming off a five-set comeback win over Ward Melville the night before. Northport struggled to contain Murphy (14 kills) up front as the outside hitter nailed back-to-back kills to put the Bulls out front 15-11 in the first set. Wertheim (18 kills) made his presence known, and added a pair of his own kills to put the Bulls one point away from winning the match. The Tigers were able to score three unanswered points before the Bulls shut the door.

Smithtown East’s Kyle Shaffer sets up a play. Photo by Bill Landon

Smithtown East  had momentum on its side coming into the game, having won three in a row. The Bulls only loss of the season was the season opener against Walt Whitman Sept. 5. Looking to build on their momentum, the Bulls jumped ahead 9-5, only to have the Tigers claw their way back to tie the set 10-10. Smithtown East libero Bryan Kaplan slammed home four straight aces to get ahead once more. Both teams traded points, and Smithtown East edged ahead 23-20 before putting away set two.

Northport came out fast in the third set, and mental errors cost Smithtown East the lead, falling behind 14-9. Murphy, equally dangerous from the service line, scored three aces to close within one point.

“I don’t think they were playing to the best of their ability in the first two sets, but then we fell flat, we were overconfident in that third set [and it got away from us],” Smithtown East setter Kyle Shaffer said. “They were better than I’d thought they’d be — their middles are very good and they have great blocking.”

Northport setter Ben Sandt turned the tide with a pair of monster kill shots and the Tigers finished the job to take the third.

Northport’s Ben Sandt spikes the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

“We stepped it up and they were a little flat,” Sandt said. “We passed better, we had a lot more energy and our setter Ryan Parker pushed the ball up front so we could get some kills. We kept our serves in and we rallied off that.”

The Tigers looked to duplicate what they did the night before — winning three in a row — and found themselves in a 12-12 stalemate in the fourth set. Northport mistakes put the Bulls out front 19-17, and then 23-20 before Northport called timeout.

“Yesterday they  went down two but came back, and we were worried that they were going to do the same thing to us,” Smithtown East head coach Ray Preston said. “But we were able to battle through.”

The Tigers, desperate to force a final set, scored next, but it was too little too late.

Northport head coach Amanda DiPietro said she saw weakness in her lineup that will be addressed going forward.

“I knew they were going to be tough — we saw them in some tournaments previously and they’re a tough team, they have a lot of talent,” she said. “Our service was pretty strong today, but we need to get better at blocking.”

By Bill Landon

Smithtown West had a score to settle, as the girls volleyball team opened the season on the road at Newfield, the team that knocked them out of the postseason last year. For the Bulls, redemption was sweet as the girls swept the Wolverines in three straight sets Sept. 5, 25-10, 25-22, 25-23.

“We know they’re a tough team, they’re scrappy defensively and they’re not going to give up,” said Smithtown West head coach Deron Brown. “We came out really strong in the first set — we put a big number on the board to start.”

“I was happy with how we picked ourselves up in the second game. We got aggressive and had good communication out on the court.”

— Christy Innes

Anchoring the outside hitting game for Smithtown West were senior Peri Allen from the right side and freshman Sally Tietjen from the left.

“Last year — they crushed us in three,” said Allen, who notched 16 digs and eight kills. “So to win today in three proved that we [are capable] of beating them, so it was a big win for us.”

For Tietjen, the scoring was almost reversed, recording 15 kills and eight digs for the formidable scoring duo up front.

The Bulls barreled through the Newfield  in the first set, and despite being ahead 13-6 in the second set, Newfield slowly chipped away at the deficit. As the momentum shifted the Wolverines’ way, with the help of some Smithtown West miscues, Newfield rallied to close the gap to 22-19, forcing Smithtown West to call timeout. Out of the break, the Wolverines scored two unanswered points to trail by one before the Bulls closed the door, 25-22.

Newfield head coach Christy Innes said she anticipated a tough match and said her team had to shake off the first set and focus on playing mistake free the rest of the way.

“[Smithtown West] did very well today — they played a very aggressive game, but we expected that,” the coach said. “I was happy with how we picked ourselves up in the second game. We got aggressive and had good communication out on the court.”

“In that third set I just wanted to make sure we kept pushing through. We fell behind a little bit and this happened to us last year, so we had to really fight through that game, and we pushed hard.

Sally Tietjen

The Wolverines once again got off to a slow start to open the third set, falling behind 5-0 before they could answer. Madison Wenzel set to her outside hitters — senior Naomi Ruffalo-Roman and junior Olivia Bond — as the three battled at the net to claw their way back, tying the set 14-14. It was a see-saw battle the rest of the way with Newfield taking its first lead of the day, edging ahead 15-14, but the Bulls rallied back too, to make it a new game at 18-18.

“In that third set I just wanted to make sure we kept pushing through,” Tietjen said. “We fell behind a little bit and this happened to us last year, so we had to really fight through that game, and we pushed hard. We were so determined to beat them after last year, so we didn’t let up.”

The Wolverines scored, but the Bulls answered. An out-of-bounds serve gave the lead back to Newfield for 20-19 advantage, and both teams traded points before Smithtown West scored the final two to win.

Newfield is back on the court Sept. 7 when the team travels to Riverhead for a 4 p.m. match.

“They pulled together,” Innes said. “They got aggressive, had good communication and they played well in the last two games. We’ll be back at practice tomorrow and work on the individual skills stuff for each girl and we’ll focus on cleaning up the technique.”

Smithtown West will host crosstown foe Smithtown East Sept. 7 at 5:45 p.m.

“Our lineup is not really set yet — we’re still trying different kids in different spots — but everybody responded well,” Brown said. “They went out on the court with energy and they stayed positive, even when the match got tight.”

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