Frank Massa, the Mattituck High School girls volleyball coach, was in the school’s weight room one day this past winter when athletic director Gregg Wormuth walked in.
“Frank, I hate to do this, but I’m going to ruin your day,” said Wormuth.
And then he did, conveying the news that Mattituck had been reclassified from a Class C team to Class B in girls volleyball. That means the Tuckers now find themselves in the same playoff pool as powerhouses Elwood/John Glenn and Bayport-Blue Point.
“It’s going to be a tough haul,” said Massa, who is in his 29th year as the team’s coach.
This class change could very well mark the end of Mattituck’s golden age in girls volleyball. The Tuckers have won Long Island championships in five of the past six years, earning them coveted trips to Glens Falls for the state championships each time.
“Winning the Long Island championship, that’s a great feeling right there,” Massa said. “I can’t say it’s anything but great.”
Last year Mattituck took a 17-4 record to Glens Falls. In the Tuckers’ final set, they topped Broadalbin Perth, 25-23, for their first win ever in the state semifinal pool. Afterward, Massa called it “the best volleyball feeling” he has experienced as a coach.
Mattituck has a 1-29 career record in state semifinals. It will be awfully hard for the Tuckers to add to that this year, with Glenn and Bayport serving as major roadblocks.
“That’s the way it is,” Massa said. “Can’t do anything about it.”
On the plus side, Mattituck has two All-League juniors coming off fine seasons — outside hitters Madison Osler and Kathryn Zaloom. Osler was the Suffolk County Class C Tournament MVP and the League VII Rookie of the Year.
Massa said both players have improved. Whereas last year they were subbed out when they rotated to the back line, both have raised their passing skills so that they may not come off the court.
Another senior, right-side hitter Grace Izzo, was also a starter last year. In addition, four other seniors have varsity experience: middle hitter Samantha Husak, setter Sarah Shannon, setter Kim Corso and libero Amanda Young. They are joined by nine new additions: outside hitters Sophie Jacobs, Ashley Burns and Macie Grathwohl, setters Julia Vasile-Cozzo, Ashley Chew and Cassidy Bertolas, right-side hitter/middle hitter Riley Hoeg, middle hitter Viki Harkin and libero Jamie Gaffga.
“We’re fairly solid,” Massa said. “I have a legit three or four girls who can take good swings at the ball.”
Mattituck’s focus is on picking up six league wins. That would send it back into the playoffs for a 13th straight year.
Massa said, “We’re going to give it our best shot as we have every year.”
An era clearly came to an end last fall when Greenport/Southold (5-7) lost to Mattituck in a Suffolk Class C semifinal. It’s now back to square one for the Clippers, who have graduated 15 players over the past two years.
“This is not rebuilding, this is a whole new construction,” said coach Mike Gunther.
He isn’t kidding. Three of his starters — freshmen Kathryn Kilcommons, Elizabeth Jernick and McKenna Demerest — were playing junior high school volleyball just seven months ago and the other three total only four years of varsity experience.
Gunther, who has coached volleyball since 1983 with the exception of a three-year break, doesn’t think he has ever had this much turnover before.
And yet, Gunther is delighted by the attitudes of the players. He said 10 to 13 players have trained in the weight room since the end of July. And through two-a-day practices, lifting and circuit training, “not a single complaint,” he said.
“This is definitely one of the hardest working teams I ever had,” he said. “What they’re going to do in the next four years is going to be interesting and fun.”
Returning senior starters Kylee DeFrese, a middle hitter, and Vivian Mantzapoulos, a libero, join senior outside hitter Paige Asimenios in the starting six along with the freshmen trio. Kilcommons will play outside hitter or middle hitter, Jernick is a right-side hitter and Demerest is a setter.
Making the jump to the varsity level are right-side hitter Charis Stoner, outside hitters Annette Newman and Caitlyn Macomber, middle hitter Emily Russell and setter Kathleen McCabe.
“You can’t help it,” Gunther said. “We’re going to look messy in the beginning. You can’t go with that little experience and not look messy.”
Photo caption: Mattituck was the No. 1 Long Island Class C team in five of the past six years, but this year the Tuckers are in Class B. (Credit: Garret Meade, file)