MUSTANGS 25, 26, 25 TUCKERS 7, 24, 18
Mattituck coach Frank Massa could see the play unfolding. He had coached against Mount Sinai and Caleigh Dolese enough times over the years to know the Mustangs’ junior is no typical high school volleyball player.
Dolese — the Mustangs’ do-it-all hitter/setter/passer — abruptly ended a 6-0 Mattituck run that had pulled the Tuckers even in the second game of Friday afternoon’s match at Mount Sinai High School. Her carefully timed tip-in dropped to put the Mustangs ahead 23-22 as they inched closer to the win and a 3-0 match victory.
“I saw exactly what she was going to do with it because she had done it against us about three years in a row now,” Massa said. “She’ll set the ball right over the net on the second pass and my girls are standing there flat-footed.”
Dolese gave the Tuckers (3-6 League VII, 6-9 overall) fits all afternoon from wherever she was on the court. She took over the serve after delivering a kill to make it 19-7 in the first game. Shen then rolled off four aces during the Mustangs’ next six points to close out the first game 25-7 for Mount Sinai.
While small in stature, Dolese unleashed strong hits from the back or front row.
“She’s got to be one of the top five, all-time, all-around best players I’ve seen,” Massa said. “There are girls that are twice her size, but don’t have the all-around game. She can do absolutely anything on the volleyball court.”
Her jump serve is one of the best. And she wasn’t the only Mustang serving well against the Tuckers. From the first game through the early part of the second game, the Mustangs ripped off ace after ace. In Game 2 libero Jordan Fiore had three aces out of four points as the Mustangs jumped ahead 9-3. Once the Tuckers began receiving the serves better, it allowed them to start setting up their offense and generating points.
Massa said the biggest key for his team has been passing.
“Our entire season is predicated by how we pass,” he said. “In the games that we have played well in, we passed well. We get the yips sometimes like we did in the first game. We don’t have that much of a problem setting or hitting the ball, but we do have trouble getting it to the setter.”
The Mustangs served well all game and gave away few points to the Tuckers.
After the big first game the Mustangs appeared to be well on their way to another sizeable victory in Game 2. A kill from senior Allie Rose put the Mustangs ahead 20-12 for the biggest lead of the game.
But the Tuckers came roaring back, sparked by a kill from middle hitter Clare Finnican. After being limited to one kill in the first game, Finnican began rolling to lead the Tuckers back into contention. With her team trailing 22-16, Finnican tallied five straight kills. She finished the match with a team-high 11.
“Against a team like Mount Sinai, even when you get your motor running, Caleigh’s out there,” Massa said.
The Mustangs persevered to win Game 2 and took control of the final game after briefly falling behind by a point. The Tuckers led 7-6 — the only time in the match they led other than scoring the first point of a game — but the Mustangs answered with five straight points to seize control.
Massa said slow starts have plagued the team in other matches as well.
“This is the second match in a row where during the first game I think most of the girls were still on the bus,” he said.
Luckily for the Tuckers they won’t have to face Mount Sinai any more this season. The Mustangs have advanced to the Class B county finals four consecutive years before losing to John Glenn. Mattituck, meanwhile, plays in Class C, where last year the Tuckers won the Long Island championship.
The matches against Class C teams remain the most important for the Tuckers and they’ll have a pair early next week. They travel to Center Moriches Monday for a non-league match and then to Babylon Tuesday.
“If we can win those games we’ll be looking OK as far as the Cs are concerned,” Massa said. “And when it comes down to it, that’s who we really need to beat.”