Frank Massa, in his 32nd year as Mattituck High School’s girls volleyball coach, said he hasn’t made a decision on how much longer he will remain in coaching. What he does know is that he’s nearing the end of the road.
That’s just one reason a clearly delighted Massa rejoiced in Mattituck securing its sixth Long Island championship Sunday, earning the Tuckers a trip to Glens Falls for the state tournament that will be played next Saturday and Sunday.
“I have no idea whether I’ll be able to coach in a situation like this again and have the chance to go up to Glens Falls again,” he said after Mattituck beat East Rockaway, 25-14, 25-22, 25-23, in the Long Island Class C final at Farmingdale State College. “I’m coming toward near the end of my career, and I got to tell you, when I start reflecting back on that and looking at what we’ve done in the past, knowing that there’s limited time coming up in the future, it makes it even that more sweeter.”
What also makes it sweeter is that while Mattituck (16-2) entered this season with returning starters in Viki Harkin, Jordan Osler, Jillian Gaffga and Rachel Janis, it also had plenty of question marks. Among them was how would the Tuckers handle the pressure of a championship match?
“There is nobody on this team that has played in this atmosphere, which is unusual for a Mattituck team,” Massa said. “We usually have a couple of girls who have been in high-pressure playoff situations.”
As it turned out, Mattituck handled it rather well, taking down East Rockaway (13-3) in three sets. With that, the Tuckers will return to Glens Falls for the first time since 2015, when they made a third straight appearance in the state tournament. None of the current Tuckers have been to the state tournament as a player.
“Honestly, I thought that winning counties was a great feeling,” Osler said. “This is 10 times better.”
What sent Mattituck through, perhaps more than anything else, was its fine defense and the play of Harkin (16 kills, four service aces, one assist). The Tuckers were more consistent than East Rockaway, which committed 25 hitting errors, 11 more than Mattituck. Those self-inflicted wounds hurt the Rocks.
“I knew today that ball control was going to be a premium,” Massa said. “I knew that that was going to be the deciding factor.”
After Mattituck took the first set rather handily, East Rockaway pushed the Tuckers in the last two sets. Mattituck didn’t want a repeat of the Suffolk County final when it won the first two sets, only to lose the next two and be forced to a decisive fifth set by Pierson/Bridgehampton.
On Sunday, a block by Janis and a Harkin kill closed out the tight second set. In the third set, East Rockaway recovered from a six-point deficit to twice take the lead. The Rocks held a 20-18 edge at one point.
“I was concerned maybe a little bit, but I just had a feeling that we weren’t letting it go,” said Osler, a junior libero who had a fine defensive match.
Mattituck hung tough and Harkin ended it by putting away a set from Miranda Hedges, setting off an on-court celebration.
“If I had to rate them, I’d give them a B,” Massa said of his players. “I think we still have a lot left to our game. I think we passed up on some opportunities. I think we had some miscues with our passing. We kept on opening up the door for East Rockaway but then we seemed to gather ourselves and the comeback ended there.”
Here’s a scary thought for Mattituck: Harkin’s fitness for the match had been in question. The junior outside hitter had been ill the two days preceding the match.
“I had a fever and I was feeling bad and I couldn’t move,” she said. “Even if I had a fever, I would have been here playing. It didn’t really affect me at all. I felt a hundred percent. I felt really good.”
Hedges (eight) and Ashley Young combined for 14 Mattituck assists.
Brooke DeGuilio had 18 assists and four kills for East Rockaway. East Rockaway has won at least five Long Island titles, the last in 2016, according to Rocks coach Ksenia Brito.
“I’ve honestly never played in a gym this big, so it was pretty overwhelming,” Janis said. “Once you’re on the court and see all the people in the stands, it’s very nerve-racking, but the adrenaline kind of gets you going.”
“It’s unreal,” she continued. “We’re a very special team and I feel like we’re going to have an amazing time in the states.”
It will be another nice chapter to Massa’s coaching career, even if the final draft of that career has yet to be written.
“One of these times I’m going to run out of gas,” he said.
Someone then suggested that he might run out of gas in Glens Falls.
“Hey,” he said, “a good place to run out of gas.”
Photo caption: Mattituck players celebrate their Long Island Class C championship victory over East Rockaway. (Credit: Garret Meade)