While the rest of her teammates on the Mattituck High School girls volleyball team are clad in blue shirts, Meghan McKillop wears a white one as the team’s libero. That may be puzzling to those who don’t know volleyball well.
“I get a lot of questions about that,” said McKillop.
Like a soccer goalkeeper, a volleyball libero wears a different colored shirt than her teammates. McKillop stands out in another way, too: through her play.
A starting setter on last year’s team, McKillop has transitioned well to libero, a position typically played by a team’s best defensive player, someone with good passing skills. The senior has been a steady contributor and a big reason why the Tuckers won their fifth Long Island Class C championship in six years and are once again headed to Glens Falls, N.Y., for the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association semifinal pool on Saturday.
Sometimes the play of the libero and defensive specialists like Erin Feeney and Phurlamu Sherpa get overlooked, but they are the last line of defense and vitally important to the team’s success. Volleyball is the ultimate team sport in the sense that all six players on the court are connected, as if linked by a rope. The play of each player is affected by the play of the others.
It all starts with a pass. Without that pass, there is no set, and without a set there is no hit.
“Everything starts with the first pass,” setter Carly Doorhy said. “It’s just so important.”
Madison Osler can appreciate that as an outside hitter. “The kills come off that pass,” she said, “and without defense, our offense couldn’t happen.”
And defense is where McKillop comes in. Her passing accuracy has been a blessing for the Tuckers. In their 25-15, 25-20, 25-23 defeat of Wheatley in the Long Island final on Saturday at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood, McKillop turned in a team-leading 20 digs. She also went 15 of 15 serving. In Mattituck’s earlier playoff wins, she served 10 of 11 against Greenport/Southold and 27 of 27 against Babylon.
“It’s a lot more intense for me,” said McKillop, who asserted she is playing her favorite position for her favorite team. “I mean, this is the last year for me to give it everything I have.”
Following Saturday’s match, Doorhy said McKillop deserved the game ball. She called McKillop “the best libero I have ever seen on a Mattituck team.”
High praise, indeed. And more followed from Mattituck’s coach, Frank Massa.
When asked what he thought of McKillop’s play, Massa responded: “You want to talk about stepping it up? Absolutely. She was one of the best liberos in the league as it was, and you could see that she understands the gravity of the games that we’re playing and how the career is coming to an end, so she has nothing to be ashamed of. She is going to be so proud when she thinks back on the games that she has played. I’ll tell her about all the shanked passes and she’ll remember all the ones that she dug out well.”
Serve receive has been a strength of the Tuckers during the postseason. They allowed only one service ace to Greenport/Southold and three to Babylon — exceptionally low numbers — before conceding 10 to Wheatley.
With a smart setter in Doorhy and outside hitters Kathryn Zaloom and Osler, who have been on the mark, the key for the Tuckers has been that clean first pass.
“Once we pass to the 10-foot line, we got like a 90-percent chance that we’re going to take a swing at the ball,” Massa said, “and if we got those two girls [Zaloom and Osler] swinging, along with Dawn [Rochon] and Skyler [Grathwohl] pushing, we’re going to be O.K.”
Aside from her white shirt, McKillop is associated with another color: green. Her nickname, inappropriately enough, is The Hulk.
“Look at her stature. Are you kidding me?” Massa said as eyes turned to the 5-foot-1 McKillop. “You haven’t seen her turn green yet?”
At that moment, a fan chimed in, “Don’t make her mad.”
Photo Caption: Former setter Meghan McKillop has excelled as a libero for Mattituck this season. (Credit: Garret Meade)