By Bill Landon
The Smithtown East girls’ volleyball team is peaking at the right time.
The team took care of business in the Class AA semifinals Nov. 7, avenging a semifinal loss to Ward Melville last season. The No. 2 Bulls came away victorious at home in straight sets against the No. 3 Patriots, 25-20, 25-12 and 25-23 to advance to the finals. The team will take on No. 1 Connetquot at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus Nov. 10 at 8 p.m.
“I thought we were pretty consistent with our serving, and I just knew we could get it together,” said Smithtown East junior outsite hitter Morgan Catalonatto. “Now we’ll just continue do what we’ve been doing all season long.”
After a 5-5 tie in the opening set, the Bulls put together a string of service points. Couple that with crowd-gasping defense, and the team jumped out to a 24-19 advantage. Serving break point was junior setter Brooke Berroyer, who led her team to victory with 28 assists.
Ward Melville lost to the Bulls Oct. 18 in five sets, but the semifinal matchup was different.
The Bulls were everywhere on the court — high above the net, flat on the floor — and dig after dig the Smithtown East savored its advantage. Senior outside hitter and co-captain Haley Anderson went on a service tare and rattled off seven unanswered points to put her team out front 12-5 in the second set.
A threat in any row, Anderson also tallied 14 kills and 14 digs in the contest.
“As a team we needed to keep our composure, focus on each point, one point at a time, and not harp on the little mistakes,” Anderson said. “Steph Berdon really stepped it up — who is our middle — and Brooke Berroyer, she played well and that help us out.”
Ward Melville began making mental errors — sending a service out of bounds and dropping two balls, which prompted Ward Melville head coach Charlie Fernandes to call timeout.
“We’ve been chasing ourselves in terms of unforced errors all season long, but in the past two playoff games they really cut down [on these],” Fernandes said. “I think tonight we were a little nervous and a little jumpy.”
Seizing the opportunity, the Bulls surged ahead 20-11 before an unforced error. Ward Melville wouldn’t score again though, and Smithtown East tallied the final five points to put the set away.
Smithtown East head coach George Alamia said he was surprised following the first two sets, knowing what Ward Melville has been able to accomplish on the court.
“I knew that the third set was going to be the toughest game — that’s an unbelievable program over there,” he said. “We followed their lead when I first started this program in 2005. It’s like the Patriots in the NFL, [but in volleyball], it’s the Ward Melville Patriots you follow. [You follow] a winning team, one that’s won a lot of championships, and I have tremendous respect for Charlie Fernandes.”
Momentum began to shift midway through the third set when the Patriots, who trailed from the opening volley, clawed their way back to draw within a point, 13-12. The team wasn’t going to go down without a fight.
Ward Melville’s senior outside hitter Lara Atalay dished up a service kill to tie the game at 13-13, and scored again to give Ward Melville its first lead in the set. Both teams traded points to knot the score at 18-18. Again, it was back and forth as the Bulls scored the next three points, only to have the Patriots answer with three of their own to retie the game at 21-21. After a service error, Ward Melville scored next to retie the game at 22-22 and followed it up with a kill shot to edge ahead 23-22.
Berroyer, from the service line, led the Bulls to the tying point, and on the next serve, helped her team to a 24-23 advantage. Serving again for the go-ahead score, the Bulls made it 24-23 and Berroyer, like she’d done in each of the three sets, scored the final point for her team.
“We have a shot to win the county [championship] against probably the best team in the state — Connetquot,” Alamia said. “We’re going to go there, give our best shot and I think we’ll be alright.”