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Erika Benson

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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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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By Bill Landon

Lauren Kloos continues to lead the way for Kings Park.

On Nov. 12, the senior outside hitter’s 12 kills put the girls’ volleyball team back in the state semifinal game. The Kingsmen bested Floral Park in straight sets, 25-10, 25-19 and 25-22 for Kings Park’s sixth straight Long Island championship crown.

Kloos said Kings Park (19-0) was ready for Floral Park, practicing defending against the unconventional ways its opponent would end up tipping and dumping the ball.

Junior outside hitter Sam Schultz, who finished with 12 digs and seven kills, and junior middle hitter Kara Haase, who added nine digs and eight kills, were also important contributors.

It’s been familiar stages for the Kings Park, and for the past three years, the Kingsmen have also seen a familiar foe at the county level.

Prior to the Long Island win, the dynasty did it again, as No. 1 Kings Park swept No. 2 Westhampton for the third straight year, 25-10, 25-15 and 25-13 for the Kingsmen’s sixth Suffolk Class A title.

Westhampton was plagued by unforced errors throughout the matchup, committing five of them in the first set alone to fall behind 16-7. Kloos made here presence known early, and spiked a kill shot that put her team out front 18-7, as Westhampton called timeout to try and throw Kings Park off balance.

It didn’t work, and as the team spread the ball around, the powerhouse surged ahead 23-9 looking to end the set early. And it did.

“A lot of hard work goes into it — the amount of practice we have to do to be able to execute [on the court],” Kloos said following the county win. “To be able to win another [championship] for the program is just amazing.”

“As a program, we still have a lot to prove. As time evolves we have a target on our back.”

— Ed Manly

The senior earned her fourth Suffolk and Long Island titles.

Dig after dig the Kingsmen got the ball to the junior Haley Holmes, and the setter spread the wealth. She aided the team in breaking out to a 13-5 advantage in the second set.

“It takes a lot of practice,” said Holmes, who finished with 28 assists and 10 digs against Floral Park. “We come to practice every day and we were ready for this. Our defense was perfect and that made it easy for me; the hitters just killed it.”

Kings Park continued to capitalize on Westhampton’s unforced errors, and surged ahead 23-15. On a bad serve, Westhampton handed Kings Park the break point, and the Kingsmen did what they’ve done all season, and put the set away, 25-15.

“Our energy, our intensive focus — every point we were mentally engaged, we knew where we needed to be, we knew our assignments,” Kings Park head coach Ed Manly said. “It was very hard. Our girls just work tirelessly all year long to play in this game. This is why you play volleyball, and we have the best kids around.”

Junior middle hitter Erika Benson, who had five kills and two blocks in the Long Island championship game, said her group continues to pull through and win as a team.

“Every game is a challenge, ” she said. “Our energy on and off the court never stopped. We never had a dull moment.”

Westhampton managed one last kill shot before Kings Park took the county title.

Having depth and help from all over makes Kings Park a contender for the state title. The team has to get through Glens Falls first, in the state semifinals Nov. 19. The Kingsmen have yet to take home a state title in the last five years.

“As a program, we still have a lot to prove,” Manly said. “As time evolves we have a target on our back. There are times when our kids feel like they’re not given the same credit as other teams around, for one reason or another, so they’re really inspired to play solid volleyball all of the time.”

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By Bill Landon

Just call it the fabulous fifth.

The No. 2 Kings Park girls’ volleyball team defeated No. 1 Westhampton Beach in three straight sets Thursday, 25-23, 25-20 and 25-17, to claim the school’s fifth straight Suffolk County Class A title.

The Kingsmen took seven straight points in the first set, and broke out to a 10-6 lead as both teams continued to trade points until Kings Park was ahead 17-12 at the first time out.

The Hurricanes battled back with several long volleys to close the gap to 20-18, but the Kingsmen rattled off four more points to take a 24-20 advantage. Kings Park looked to put the game away, and did, but not before Kings Park took three more points, to win the first set, 25-23.

“Our team is about coming out and doing what we have to do,” Kings Park junior outside hitter Lauren Kloos said. “We come out with so much excitement, so this win is just amazing for us.”

With the teams tied 7-7 in the second set, Kings Park surged ahead 24-17, but Westhampton Beach scored the next three points to trail 24-20. Again, the Kingsmen found a way to dig out the last point, to win the second set 25-20.

Kings Park sophomore middle hitter Erika Benson said her team has a winning formula.

“I think it’s the passion we have for each other,” she said. “All three matches were close, and they played really well, but in the end we came out stronger.”

Westhampton Beach struggled, and fell behind in the third set 8-2 in a must-win set to stay alive. The Hurricanes would not go quietly though, and battled back to close within four points late in the match.

Kloos finished with 14 kills; senior middle hitter Lauren Kehoe added 12 kills and 16 digs; senior outside hitter Jaclyn Wilton had 12 kills and 16 digs; sophomore libero Meagan Murphy had 25 digs; and senior setter Stephanie Cornwell added 31 assists.

“We communicate really well; Meagan Murphy, Lauren Baxter and Kayla Buell played really great defense,” Kehoe said. “Lauren Kloos and Jaclyn Wilton were swinging great and Stephanie Cornwell was serving really well, so it was just a good performance all around.”

It was the third time the teams faced each other this year, and although Kings Park won the second meeting between the two, the Hurricanes handed Kings Park their only loss in the season in the first game of the year.

Wilton said Westhampton Beach is a much stronger team this season compared to last.

“We lost to them in our first game, we’ve been undefeated in my high school career and that first lost hurt,” Wilton said. “I never knew what that felt like, but since then, I knew that I never wanted to experience that again.”

And so far, they haven’t.

With the win, Kings Park advances to the Long Island championship round.  The team will return to Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus tomorrow, Nov. 14, to face Wantagh at 3 p.m.

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Lauren Kehoe leaps up for the spike in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon

By Clayton Collier

Coming off a year in which they boasted a 32-2-5 record and took home a Long Island Championship, the Kings Park girls’ volleyball program has kicked off their 2015 season with a number of new faces.

The most recent addition to the Kingsmen family came on Sept. 7 — Labor Day — when head coach Lizz Manly gave birth to her second son, Braden. Manly’s husband and the team’s assistant coach, Ed, has taken over the head coaching duties for this season in her absence.

Though she said the team misses Lizz, senior middle/right side Lauren Kehoe said she and her teammates have not had to adjust to Ed, who in addition to being an assistant, is also the junior varsity coach.

Lauren Kehoe leaps up for the spike in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon
Lauren Kehoe leaps up for the spike in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon

“We really haven’t had to adjust much at all,” she said. “We know what he expects from us, which is just giving it everything we have at all times on the court. He pushes us to be better athletes and people; always asking us how our days are and making sure we’re staying on top of our school work.”

Lizz Manly said it isn’t easy not to be coaching this season, but has full confidence in her husband’s abilities.

“It is sad for me not to be there,” she said. “Luckily, my husband took over for me, so I can still feel a little involved, and he is doing a great job so far. I think with confidence and determination, they will continue the Kings Park volleyball tradition.”

Ed Manly said his players and their families have helped make for an easy transition.

“It’s been a bit crazy, but the team and families have actually been very supportive — sending food home and stuff, asking to babysit my older guy,” he said. “It’s been crazy, but so much fun, too.”

In addition to their coach, Kings Park is also without several of their key cogs from last season, including Amanda Gannon, the program’s all-time kills leader and reigning Long Island Player of the Year.

“Any time you graduate a player like Amanda, there is an adjustment period,” Ed Manly said. “We also lost another All Long Island player in Kat Benson, who is now at Pace, and Emily Stephens, who was a four-year starter and a Second-Team All-Long Island player.”

Jaclyn Wilton bumps the ball in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon
Jaclyn Wilton bumps the ball in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon

Seven of the 16 on this year’s squad are first-year members, while another seven are seniors.

Leading this transitional time for the Kingsmen will be senior captains Kehoe, Jaclyn Wilton and Steph Cornwell. Manly said each of his captains will play a vital role in all aspects of the game.

“Steph will be the leader on the court,” he said of the setter. “As a senior setter and two-year starter, she knows the expectations and the way we want to run things offensively.”

He believes Wilton will be key in his team’s success this year.

“She steps into the role as one of our main hitters, alongside junior Lauren Kloos,” Manly said. “Kehoe in the middle and junior Tara Carlin on the right side will anchor our front line.”

Wilton, an outside hitter, said while there is still room for improvement, she is pleased by the progress that has been made thus far.

Amanda Gannon and Lizz Manly are both absent from this season’s squad. File photo from Bill Denniston
Amanda Gannon and Lizz Manly are both absent from this season’s squad. File photo from Bill Denniston

“This season is definitely an adjustment, because we have a lot of young and new faces on the team,” she said. “Luckily, we all get along very well and are starting to understand better how to play with each other. It’s still early in the season and we still need a lot of work, but I definitely see us going far.”

Other key contributors include senior libero Lauren Baxter, sophomore defensive specialist Meagan Murphy and sophomore middle Erika Benson.

Kings Park lost its opening match to Westhampton Beach, but have since responded with four straight wins against Comsewogue, Sayville, Islip and Rocky Point.

While there is plenty of turnover from last season, Manly said the expectations remain high for his squad.

“We are confident that we have a great group of girls that will continue to get better and do great things,” he said. “There is a great sense of team chemistry already and the play on the court will only continue to get better.”