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Charlie Fernandes

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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.”

The top ranked League I girls’ volleyball team had a chance at revenge, and they made it count.

No. 1 Ward Melville fell to No. 2 Commack in five sets back in September for the Patriots first loss of the season. Since then, the girls’ volleyball team had its eyes on avenging its only League I defeat.

“It was a tough loss, but we definitely used it as fire to power ourselves to keep working,” senior libero Ellen Li said. “It’s something we looked at and we worked on and it made us work harder each day. We wanted nothing more than to come back.”

The Patriots fought back to sweep Commack in three sets on senior night Oct. 17, 25-21, 25-18 and 25-23.

Despite winning the match in straight sets, the affair was a constant battle.

“Last time we knew what we did wrong, and we turned a corner and fixed everything that went wrong in that game, in the games we played leading up to this game,” senior outside hitter Olivia Hynes said. “We can get into these holes, but we talk to each other and we get out of it right away.”

“We came through with strong defense and the serve receives when the score was tight. If we made an error we were able to push through it.”

— Lara Atalay

A short serve put Ward Melville ahead 10-5 midway through the first set, but the Cougars battled back to tie 13-13. After scoring the next point, Ward Melville head coach Charlie Fernandes was forced to call timeout.

“They keep getting in their own way, but they also battle their way out of it, so it’s pretty exciting,” he said. “We’re setting the ball well, we play nice defense and our middles are a big surprise to everybody — they’re really doing a great job. Everyone knew we had two good outsides, but to add the two middles and the right side, we have a very complete volleyball team.”

Commack went on a tare of its own to pull ahead 19-16 in the set, but junior middle blocker Schuyler Tasman came through with a block and a send over on volley that Commack could not recover, to tie the score 19-19. The two teams traded tallies over the next four points, but an out of bounds Commack hit and Tasman serve led Ward Melville to the first-set win.

“I’m happy that we won,” Fernandes said. “I think it puts us in a good position to hopefully win the league and that should seed us well for the playoffs. We’re still making too many unforced errors for my liking, but we still have a few weeks to get ready, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Ward Melville had an easier time taking the second set. The teams continued to trade points until a missed kill opportunity pulled Commack within one point, 19-18.

“We were strong getting out of tough situations,” Li said. “It’s perseverance and resilience — we’re always thinking about each other — even when we’re in tough situations we talk through it.”

“It’s perseverance and resilience — we’re always thinking about each other — even when we’re in tough situations we talk through it.”

—Ellen Li

Communication and chemistry helped the Patriots take the final six points for the 2-0 lead in the match.

The Patriots are comfortable in five-set matches, having won three so far this year, but they didn’t want to see that happen again against Commack. In the third set, down 23-21, a timeout helped the team regroup. An out of bounds Commack serve closed the gap to 23-22, and a botched dig evened the score. Ward Melville forced two more errors to sweep the game.

“We came through with strong defense and the serve receives when the score was tight,” senior outside hitter Lara Atalay said. “If we made an error, we were able to push through it and come through with a pass. It says a lot about our team. I trust my team and have a lot of confidence. We’ve had the ability to come through in any tight situation all season, and being able to come through in that tight ending was a great feeling.”

Hynes said she was happy to see her team enter the game with confidence and use that to its advantage, but she’d like to see that every time the team steps onto the court.

“This game we started off really strong and started off with a win, which set the tempo and created a different mindset for the whole game, so I want us to work on coming in strong every single game,” she said. “I wanted to look back to a great senior game we played here, so to be able to have that memory is irreplaceable.”