By Bill Landon
It was a battle of the undefeated teams, but Ward Melville fell short. The Patriots girls’ volleyball team was able to power past Smithtown East but had trouble doing it again, and fell to No. 1-ranked Connetquot, 27-25, 25-18, and 25-20, Thursday in the Suffolk County Class AA finals.
The Thunderbirds broke out to an early 10-4 lead, but the Patriots made it a one-point game later in the set to trail 19-18, forcing a Connetquot time out. Ward Melville scored next to tie the game at 19-19, but Connetquot rattled off five more points to surge ahead 24-21.
It was advantage Ward Melville when the Patriots scored the next four points to take a 25-24 lead, but the Thunderbirds were the No.1 seed for a reason, and dug out two more points to retake the lead, 26-25, and aced the final point to put the set away, 27-25.
“I felt like we got robbed in game one — I thought we had it but got a bad call there,” Ward Melville head coach Charles Fernandes said. “But I’ve got to be honest, I don’t think we played like we normally play. We didn’t pass very well and when we don’t pass well we don’t get into our offensive system.”
In a repeat of the first set, Connetquot broke out to a 10-4 lead and edged ahead 12-5 in the second set, before the team jumped out to a 20-8 lead. Ward Melville battled back to trail 22-14, and both teams traded points as Connetquot took the set to the brink, leading 24-14 before Ward Melville rattled off four unanswered points to trail 24-18. The Thunderbirds scored next though, to claim another set, 25-18.
Fernandes spoke to his team following the second-set loss about what it took to battle back, being down two games to none.
“This has happened before — teams pull this out,” he told his team. “You’ve got to get the first one and that’s the hard one.”
With their backs against the wall, the Patriots broke out to an 8-2 advantage in the third set as the team tried to avoid elimination, but after a Connetquot time out, Ward Melville struggled to maintain the margin, and the Thunderbirds bounced back to tie the game 10-10.
Connetquot scored next to take its first lead, but the set was retied at 16-16 courtesy of a kill shot by Ward Melville senior outside hitter Alex Stein. The Thunderbirds edged ahead 20-17, then 22-19 and again brought the match to the brink leading 24-20.
Stein said that her team’s performance was not up to par with the level her team usually plays at.
“I don’t know if we were nervous, anxious or just all over the place mentally, but we did not click as a team,” she said. “Our defense was all over the place and it’s just not how we play.”
The Thunderbirds scored next to sweep the Patriots and advance to the Long Island Championship round against Massapequa, where the team beat the Nassau County champs for the Long Island championship title.