The words imparted by a wise physical education teacher to some young athletes way back in the late 1970s ring as true as ever. “You will always be better than someone,” he said, “and someone will always be better than you.”
That’s the way it is in sports. The range of athletic talent is staggering. A standout athlete at one level can be average or even mediocre at another level.
One was reminded of that when considering the Mattituck High School girls volleyball team’s history in this volleyball festival known as the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Championships. In four of the past five years, the Tuckers have done quite well for themselves by winning Long Island Class C championships in those years. It’s surely a record for them to be proud about.
What hangs over the Tuckers’ heads, however, is 0-24. That is the team’s record in state semifinal pool games.
Mattituck fell to 0-24 in those games by dropping all six of its games — two apiece to Broadalbin Perth, Spackenkill and Eden — on Saturday at Glens Falls Civic Center.
Although the Tuckers came close to breaking through that winless barrier in two competitive games against Spackenkill, they have yet to win a state semifinal game in their history.
The quality of the competition is a big part of the explanation. New York is a big state, with a lot of good volleyball teams.
“The competition is amazing,” Mattituck’s junior setter, Carly Doorhy, said. “It’s nothing like you see on Long Island, to be honest with you. These girls are amazing.”
Just to give you an idea, Elwood/John Glenn is regarded as having one of the strongest programs in Suffolk County. The Knights needed a tiebreaker to survive the semifinal pool. They then lost the Class B final to Williamsville South in three games.
Mattituck’s first two games (25-3 and 25-6 losses to Broadalbin Perth) and its last two games (25-6 and 25-14 defeats to Eden) were one-sided affairs. (It should be noted, though, that the Tuckers actually held early leads in their last game against Eden. “That’s when I wanted to retire right there,” quipped Mattituck coach Frank Massa.)
A real opportunity for Mattituck’s first state win came against Spackenkill. Although the Tuckers led Spackenkill by 18-15 in their first game and by 18-16 in the second game, it was the Spartans who salvaged 25-19 wins in both of them.
Eden went on to defeat Broadalbin Perth in three games in the final the following day for its record 12th state championship. It was Eden’s eighth state title in nine years and sixth in a row. Yes, amazing is the word.
Talking about the caliber of play the Tuckers faced, Mattituck’s senior libero, Julia Orlando, said: “It’s crazy. I think it’s something in the air.”
Well, it’s not the air so much as volleyball-playing experience. The teams that fare well in the NYSPHSAA Championships tend to be those that have multiple players who play club ball. That’s hardly surprising. The Tuckers have only two, senior middle hitter Emilie Reimer and Doorhy.
“Maybe this is going to help us get some more girls that want to play some club volleyball because, you know, there’s no way to compete up here consistently unless you got that going,” said Massa.
The statistics didn’t lie. In their six games in Glens Falls, the Tuckers were topped by their opponents in service aces (34-5), kills (63-16) and points (150-67).
Regardless, the Tuckers seemed to enjoy their Glens Falls experience, which is becoming a team tradition. The rush of marching into the arena during the opening ceremony never gets old.
“It was amazing,” Orlando said. “When you just step out into that gym, it’s like walking into Yankee Stadium for the first time. You’re just taken aback.”
The Tuckers, to their credit, have been battlers all season. After scratching into the playoffs via petition and receiving the No. 3 seed in Suffolk, they went on to play their best volleyball of the season. To win at the state level, though, takes more.
“We got hot at the right time to get to the Long Island” final, Massa said. “We just ran out of a little steam up here. The competition, as you know, is just ridiculous.”
Reimer was all smiles afterward, knowing how much the Tuckers had accomplished this year. She also knows that any season that ends in Glens Falls is a good season. Finishing among the top four teams in the state is quite an achievement.
“It was a lot of fun,” she said. “I wish we would have made Mattituck history, but I’ll leave that to Carly or anyone else who comes up [here next year] because I know this is not her last time in the states.”
Bob Liepa is the sports editor of the Suffolk Times. He can be reached at [email protected].