SUFFOLK CLASS C SEMIFINAL | TUCKERS 25, 25, 25, ROYALS 16, 15, 19
Last year the Mattituck High School girls volleyball team worked wonders with serving and defense, two traditional staples for the Tuckers. Serving and defense took them all the way to the New York State semifinal pool for the first time in team history.
This year Mattituck has added hitting to its repertoire. The Tuckers are hitting the ball with more power and are able to finish points quicker.
That development has to be a source of confidence for Mattituck as it heads to the Suffolk County Class C final for the seventh time in eight years and the fourth year in a row. A 25-16, 25-15, 25-19 semifinal victory over Port Jefferson on Thursday sent the top-seeded Tuckers through. They will play either No. 2 Babylon or No. 3 Center Moriches in the county final Monday night at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue.
After Courtney Ficner put away the match point off an assist from Dominika Kupiszewska, the happy Tuckers (10-10) celebrated on the court. They knew there was a lot more riding on this than a regular-season match.
“It was definitely a lot more nerve-racking and a lot more pressure,” said Mattituck middle hitter Claire Finnican.
An emotional Finnican said she cried after the final home match for her and the team’s four other seniors — Kelly Cassidy, Kelly Hennessey, Jackie Hinrichs and Kupiszewska.
“It was so much fun,” Finnican said, “and I can say honestly that before the game we all were talking about staying excited and staying on your toes, and trying your hardest, and I really do feel that everybody put everything they had into this tonight.”
The 6-foot Finnican has added more power to her game. By working with coach Frank Massa and assistant coach Kelly Pickering, she has improved her technique so she gets more torque and is able to deliver hits with greater force.
“She’s a little bit stronger, a little bit more mature,” Massa said. “She works on her craft. … She just keeps on working at it.”
Finnican is also learning that a hitter needs to have a short memory. “Whenever I mess up I freak out,” she said, “but everyone says shake it off, and then I get over it.”
Finnican led the Tuckers’ hitting attack with 11 kills and two dinks. Mattituck setters Laurel Bertolas (nine) and Kupiszewska combined for 16 assists. Mattituck’s libero, Hinrichs, went 17 for 19 from the service line with two aces.
Amanda San Roman had eight assists for No. 4 seed Port Jefferson (6-9), which was ousted in the county semifinals by Mattituck for the second straight year. Sarah Schoepflin put all 16 of her serves in play for the Royals.
Mattituck recorded 19 kills to Port Jefferson’s nine.
“They were getting the ball up and they were getting it to their hitters,” Port Jefferson coach Bob Conlin said. “And when their hitters didn’t have a hit they were shooting it, they were dinking it down. … They were putting the ball where we weren’t.”
Mattituck started the match well. By the time the Tuckers went through the rotation once, they held a 20-10 lead.
Except for a brief spell at 4-3 in the first game, Port Jefferson didn’t hold a lead until the third game, which it opened by scoring the first four points. The game swung back and forth before Mattituck finished off the final seven points behind Hinrichs’ serving.
Port Jefferson lost one of its players when Jaclyn Dombrowski rolled an ankle in the second game. She walked gingerly off the court and watched the rest of the match from the bench.
It was a good showing for the Tuckers, who have several hitting options aside from Finnican and Ficner in the middle.
Massa likes what he has seen from outside hitters like Alexa Orlando and Cassidy.
“What’s really impressive to me is how the outsides are playing right now,” the coach said. “They’re tearing it up, I think. They’re hitting the ball pretty well, and Kelly Cassidy has just been a rock the whole year. Offensively, defensively, she’s right as rain. She just keeps on doing the things that we need to do to win.”
That’s the sort of variety that a setter like Kupiszewska can appreciate.
“We have a lot of strong hitters this year and they’re improving throughout the season,” she said. “They’re getting really strong, and they’re putting balls down.”
The Tuckers hope their newfound hitting can take them back to Glens Falls for the state semifinals. It has already earned them a date at St. Joseph’s College.
“We’re sitting in the same spot that last year’s team was in,” Massa said. “That’s nice. We’re going to ride the train as long as we can and, hopefully, we can get some decent results.”