Girls Volleyball: Bracken’s ailing knee raises cloud over Clippers

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Greenport/Southold outside hitter Marena Deluca tried to swing over a block attempt by Babylon setter Nicole Murphy.

PANTHERS 25, 25, 25, CLIPPERS 19, 18, 14

The Greenport/Southold high school girls volleyball team’s playoff chances may rest not so much on anyone’s shoulders as on somebody’s knee. Kim Bracken’s fragile right knee, to be precise.

Bracken twisted her troublesome knee and had to be carried off the court in the first game of a 25-19, 25-18, 25-14 non-league loss to Babylon on Thursday at Greenport High School. While the junior middle hitter watched the rest of the match from the bench, holding a bag of ice with her knee bandaged, the Clippers lost their way.

The timing of the injury isn’t ideal, coming as it does five days before Greenport/Southold’s biggest match of the season. The Clippers (5-8, 5-6 Suffolk County League VIII) need to win their final regular-season match on Tuesday at home against Center Moriches in order to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

“That’s the big one,” said Greenport/Southold coach Sue Kostal, whose team defeated Center Moriches earlier this season.

Think a little pressure is involved in this rematch?

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Babylon's Meredith Wordell hit the ball as she was met at the net by Greenport/Southold's Nina Papamichael.

“It’s no sleep for the last two weeks pressure,” Kostal said. “Yeah, it’s pretty much dreaming about it every night, wondering how it’s going to work.”

The Clippers sounded hopeful that Bracken would recover in time to play Tuesday. She is, along with Shelby Kostal and Nina Papamichael, one of the three hitters that setter Megan Demarest primarily feeds balls to. Sue Kostal calls that group her Fab Four.

“She’s had bad knees since as long as I can remember,” Sue Kostal said of Bracken. “We got a couple of days, so if she rests it, she should be O.K.”

Not having Bracken for Tuesday’s match wouldn’t be good for the Clippers. They saw on Thursday how different a team they are without her.

The Clippers trailed by 16-14 at the time of Bracken’s injury. Shelby Kostal said, “When she went down, I was like, ‘Oh my God, no!’ ”

With Bracken on the bench, the Clippers moved libero Samantha Henry into the rotation and had Gina Seas, a defensive player, take over at libero. Those moves seemed to upset Greenport/Southold’s chemistry.

“I think it definitely threw it off because we feed off each other, so when one of us is gone, it’s like, oh gosh, what do we do now?” said Shelby Kostal.

Both teams served well (Babylon at 95 percent and Greenport/Southold at 94 percent), but serve receive was an issue for the Clippers; Babylon served up 17 aces. Six of those aces came from Brianna Goodfellow.

The Panthers also received 12 assists from Nicole Marro and six kills from Mary Tighe. Another Babylon player, Christine Desiderio, went 15 for 15 serving.

Demarest collected 14 assists and set up all 10 of Shelby Kostal’s kills.

Babylon’s win could have seeding implications for both Class C teams. Although the Panthers are 8-10, 1-9 in League VII, those nine league losses came against Class B teams and Babylon could seek the petition path to the playoffs. With this non-league win, they may earn a higher seed than Greenport/Southold, should the Clippers reach the playoffs.

“They’re a good team,” Babylon coach Patrick Donaldson said of the Clippers. “They serve real strong. They move around. They always get that ball back over and it’s tough. It takes a lot of work to beat them.”

Improved as they are, it’s funny that the Clippers once again find themselves in the same position of needing to win their final regular-season match in order to gain entry into the playoffs. Last year they fell one win shy of a postseason berth. Demarest remembers it well. “Everybody started sobbing and crying,” she said. “Yeah, it was so bad.”

The Clippers, who don’t have a senior among them, are a better hitting team than they were a year ago. Marena Deluca, an eighth-grade outside hitter, has shown an ability to crush the ball from time to time.

“We’ve just been nailing the ball, which makes a big difference,” said Shelby Kostal.

Her mother and coach, Sue Kostal, has seen the team’s potential. “I don’t think we can beat anybody,” she said, “but we can beat quite a few teams on the way if we play hard all the time.”

“Volleyball, it’s crazy,” she continued. “Any team can win on any given day. It’s who is more on that day. … The key is to have them all on, all at once.”

Looking ahead to Tuesday’s showdown, Demarest said, “It’s come down to one game again and we just really got to push it.”

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