Frank Massa hasn’t spent much time recently reflecting on the 2010 high school girls volleyball season, which just happened to be the greatest in the history of the Mattituck Tuckers. Quite simply, there isn’t time for reflection.
“There’s too much to do,” said the Mattituck coach.
It was back to square one on Tuesday morning with the Tuckers starting over, almost from scratch, in their first preseason practice. Ten players from last year’s team, which became the first Mattituck girls volleyball team to reach the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Championships, have since graduated. Claire Finnican, a 6-foot senior middle hitter, and Dominika Kupiszewska, a senior setter, are the only returning starters. The only other returning players are senior libero Jackie Hinrichs and junior middle hitter Courtney Ficner. Other than that, there are plenty of new faces.
“It’s a new bunch of girls,” Massa said. “… That’s a big turnover so, as far as last year and this year is concerned, it’s not the same team.”
Last year the Tuckers made their mark, going 12-9 as they won Suffolk County and Southeast Region Class C titles to earn a ticket to Glens Falls for the state semifinal pool. It almost didn’t matter that the Tuckers went winless in the six games they played in the Glens Falls Civic Center (two each against the Falconer Central Falcons, the Thomas A. Edison Spartans, and the eventual champions, the Voorheesville Blackbirds). Cheered on by their loyal band of fans, who gave the Tuckers a standing ovation following their elimination, the experience was magical.
“It was actually the most fun I’ve ever had with a sport,” Finnican said. “I definitely want to get back up there, so I’m definitely trying to train myself as best I can. It’s definitely a memory that’s going to be with me for a long time.”
The event also made an impact on Kupiszewska, who like Finnican was promoted to the varsity team midway through her sophomore season. “It was like unbelievable,” Kupiszewska said of the state tournament. “It was pretty unexpected because we were the first volleyball team in Mattituck history to make it that far and it was really exciting. We always knew we had the potential to get up there, but we never thought it would actually happen, so it was a good surprise.”
What does 2011 have in store for the Tuckers?
That’s a good question for a team with many question marks. Whereas the six starters on last year’s team began preseason practice with at least one varsity season under their belts, this year’s team is lacking in the experience department.
“These girls don’t” have a great deal of varsity experience, Massa said, “and we have a scrimmage in about a week, and they’re going to be thrown right into it and they’re going to be learning on the run.”
Comparing last year’s team to this year’s squad is like night and day in that regard.
“I’m trying to see how we’re going to replace the players from last year,” Massa said. “Talent is one thing, but experience is another. So, no matter how good they are physically, they haven’t been tested yet on the court.”
Certainly, the current group of Tuckers have their work cut out for them. Asked how the first day of practice went, Massa replied, “Not as well as I wanted it.”
But the start of preseason practice brings optimism as well. Kupiszewska said she saw potential in her younger teammates.
“We have a lot of new players, so a lot of them don’t really know the positions, and we need to work on our serving a little bit,” she said. “We have some good hitters, some servers. We need to keep working a little bit, but I think we can definitely get everyone in shape.”
Massa said the players on last year’s team were good listeners who played their positions well and trusted each other. But what is past is past. His thoughts were primarily on the here and now.
“You can’t dwell on the past,” Massa said. “It was a great situation, a great time, but you have to try to forget about it now.”