Winning high school girls volleyball matches is a learned behavior, something Greenport/Southold has been working at in recent years.
That work finally came to fruition on Sept. 7 when Greenport snapped a losing string of at least 23 matches, covering four years and two winless seasons, with a four-set win over Babylon. None of the Porters had ever experienced a win before in a varsity uniform.
How did they react?
“It was like they won the county title,” coach Mike Gunther said. “They were celebrating. I said, ‘Good. Look at this as a beginning.’ ”
Then, six days later, Greenport had a two-match win streak, sweeping Shelter Island in three sets. It was Greenport’s first win over Shelter Island in three years, said Gunther.
Not that the Porters are near where they want to be — they lost their next four matches —but they’re no longer at the foot of the Suffolk County League VIII standings.
“A big step up from last year,” Gunther said. “I always thought that the team had the potential to win. They just didn’t know how. They didn’t have the confidence in themselves.”
That losing streak had hung over the Porters like a dark cloud, and they were keenly aware of it. Perhaps that made the triumph over Babylon all the more sweeter.
“At first it almost felt unreal that we finally won,” junior outside hitter/setter Liz Jernick said. “I was almost expecting it out of our team to kind of get a win this year. Like, I knew we had it in us, and to finally achieve that goal was amazing. It was a great feeling.”
It can already be called Greenport’s best team in three years.
Entering Wednesday, Greenport (2-5, 2-4) was tied for fifth place with Port Jefferson (2-4, 2-4) in the seven-team league. The Porters have a fighting chance to make the playoffs with a .500 league record.
“We’re not the lowest in our [league] any more,” said senior middle hitter Emily Russell, who shares the captaincy with Jernick. “That’s a great feeling.”
Since a 9-7 playoff season in 2015, Greenport hit hard times, but the Porters have made strides this year. Serving and serve receive remain a work in progress. (Gunther said the Porters made close to 30 service errors in their season-opening loss to Port Jefferson. “That’s absurd,” he said.) The Porters have cleaned up their defense a bit and have a number of hitters who can take healthy swings at the ball.
Among them is Jernick, who Gunther would like to use exclusively as an outside hitter once Rhian Tramontana is ready to handle the setting duties with Gabby Contreras. Gunther said of Jernick: “She was All-League last year; she’s better this year. She can help us most with her hitting if another setter can come along.”
Greenport’s hardest hitter, though, may be Russell. “Probably the most inspiring player on the team because of the way she plays and her hit is intimidating,” Gunther said. “She basically can hit any spot on the court.”
Greenport is young. The team’s only other senior aside from Russell is outside hitter Lupita Perez.
That youth shows sometimes, as it did Friday when Greenport made 15 hitting errors and 13 passing errors in a 25-12, 25-12, 25-8 loss to Pierson/Bridgehampton at Greenport High School.
Pierson (7-2, 4-2), a defending Long Island Class C champion that reached the state tournament last year, lost only one player from its 2017 team. The Whalers didn’t make a single passing error and totaled 23 service aces. They were led by Sam Cox (10 aces, five kills, one assist) and Sofia Mancino (eight aces, seven assists, one kill).
Jernick had four aces, four assists and one of only seven Greenport kills.
Greenport followed that up with a three-set loss at Center Moriches (6-3, 4-2) Saturday.
As for breaking the barrier to the win column, Gunther said, “It’s a really good feeling for the girls because winning taught them that they can win.”
Photo caption: Greenport/Southold coach Mike Gunther talking to his team during a timeout in Friday’s match against Pierson/Bridgehampton. (Credit: Bob Liepa)