Girls Volleyball: It’s back to Glens Falls for resilient Tuckers

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Mattituck players hugged each other after winning their second straight Long Island championship.

LONG ISLAND CLASS C FINAL | TUCKERS 13, 25, 25, 25, ROCKS 25, 23, 22, 18

The Mattituck High School girls volleyball team couldn’t have picked a much worse way to start its big match on Saturday, but it was the way the Tuckers finished that counted. They finished like champions. Long Island champions.

After falling behind by 12-0 to East Rockaway and blowing a first game it would rather forget, Mattituck recovered, battled back to take the next three games, and secured a place in the New York State Class C semifinal pool for the second straight year. Courtney Ficner put away a set from Dominika Kupiszewska for the final point, capping Mattituck’s 13-25, 25-23, 25-22, 25-18 triumph in the Long Island final at St. Joseph’s College’s John A. Danzi Athletic Center.

“It was a shock,” Ficner said. “I had to think that we just actually won.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Mattituck's Kelly Cassidy (8) and East Rockaway's Rebecca Italiano both had a hand on the ball at the net.

Some tears of joy were shed among the Tuckers, who piled on top of each other on the court while their fans cheered and applauded.

“It’s amazing,” said Sara Perkins, who came off the bench and provided Mattituck with 17-for-19 serving and three aces. “I can’t even describe the feeling. I’m so overwhelmed.”

It was an extraordinary turn of events for Mattituck (12-10), considering the way the match between the last two Long Island champions started. After a tip at the net by Lindsey Dinowitz gave East Rockaway (11-6) the match’s first point, Katie Barto and her tough jump serve gave Mattituck considerable trouble. With Barto serving, the Rocks surged to a 12-0 lead.

“It wasn’t looking good,” said Mattituck coach Frank Massa who, in an attempt to calm his players, called two timeouts before the Tuckers had scored their first point.

“We kind of just all got together in a huddle and reminded each other why we’re here and where we go from here if we pick our heads up and keep fighting,” said Mattituck middle hitter Claire Finnican.

It was too late for Mattituck to save that first game (it trailed by 23-8 at one point), but the Tuckers did start pulling things together later in the game.

“I wasn’t even sure what was going to happen after that, if we were going to fold,” Massa said. “That [first] game was a bad taste and we got rid of it. Unbelievable. That’s all you can say.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Mattituck setter Dominika Kupiszewska bumped a ball with libero Jackie Hinrichs nearby.

Pulling out Game 2 was critical for Mattituck. The Tuckers twice trailed by one point in that game, but prevailed by two points as two kills by Ficner down the stretch helped.

“We didn’t get down on ourselves at all” after losing Game 1, Perkins said. “We kept our heads up and we kept trying, and it worked.”

Mattituck dropped the first five points of the third game before taking the lead for good after a block by Ficner made it 8-7.

In Game 4, Mattituck twice forged nine-point leads, the last coming at 18-9.

The team statistics were pretty close, including total points (88-88).

Ficner, who has a knack for finding open spaces, registered eight kills for Mattituck, as did Finnican.

Massa said Ficner played “easily the best match she ever played. And she never put the ball in the same place twice.”

Mattituck’s setters, Kupiszewska and Laurel Bertolas, had 13 and 11 assists, respectively. Bertolas went a perfect 14 for 14 serving, and libero Jackie Hinrichs hit the floor a number of times to keep the ball in play.

Gina Skelly finished with nine kills, Barto ended up with eight aces and Dinowitz made five blocks for East Rockaway.

Mattituck made team history last year with its first Long Island championship, and has done well to defend its title. The Tuckers, winners of six of their last seven matches, will play in the state semifinal pool on Nov. 19 at the Glens Falls Civic Center.

Despite graduating 10 players from last year’s team, Mattituck has already matched its achievement in 2010. This year the Tuckers were battle-tested in League VII, and that may have helped refine the resilience that came in so handy for them.

“That could be one of the hardest matches that we played this year,” Massa said. “With this much on the line, the amount of confidence that they showed and the bending but not breaking attitude was really unbelievable.”

Believe it or not, Mattituck is returning to Glens Falls for another shot at state glory.

“Right now it feels so good I can’t compare it to anything else because right now I’m just so happy,” Finnican said. “I’m glad to be a Long Island champion.”

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