SUFFOLK CLASS C FINAL | TUCKERS 25, 25, 25, RED DEVILS 16, 14, 20
Winning a county championship never gets old. Just ask the Mattituck girls volleyball team.
After winning the first county title in team history in 2008, Mattituck has been making something of a habit of this. The Tuckers captured their third Suffolk County Class C title in four years Monday night with a 25-16, 25-14, 25-20 defeat of Center Moriches before a loud crowd at St. Joseph’s College’s John A. Danzi Athletic Center.
The thrilled looks on the Tuckers’ smiling faces afterward can attest that the title wasn’t taken for granted.
“It feels as good as the first,” Mattituck coach Frank Massa said. “It never gets old. Absolutely not. I know what the feeling’s like watching that last ball hit the floor. I can honestly say from the first time to last year to this time, it’s all the same. It’s one of the best feelings in the world.”
After Alexa Orlando’s shot dropped for the final point of the match, the Tuckers converged on the court and celebrated.
“The adrenaline and the feeling is so awesome,” said senior middle hitter Claire Finnican, who has played for all three of Mattituck’s county champion teams. “I could do this a hundred million more times if that were possible.”
Center Moriches was a county champion in 2005, 2006 and 2007, reaching the New York State semifinal pool in each of those years. Since then, however, Mattituck has made its mark, reaching the state semifinals last year for the first time in team history. Now the Tuckers have pulled to within one win of returning to Glens Falls for the state semifinals later this month. They will play in the Long Island final on Saturday at St. Joseph’s College against an opponent to be determined.
Finnican had a busy night for the top-seeded Tuckers (11-10), posting 14 kills, eight dinks, one block and even a rare assist. She was particularly effective at placing shots to open areas on the court.
Mattituck, which has won five of its last six matches, was playing in the county final for the seventh time in eight years and the fourth year in a row. But the Tuckers have a largely new look this year. Finnican and setter Dominika Kupiszewska are the only remaining players from last year’s team who saw substantial playing time. But other players have played their roles well. Laurel Bertolas, a sophomore, has been a reliable setter, providing Mattituck with 22 assists on Monday night. Jackie Hinrichs is a steady defensive asset at libero. Courtney Ficner is another hitting option at middle hitter.
The match got off to a rocky start for Mattituck, which showed signs of nerves with a couple of mishits in the early going and found itself behind, 7-2. But the Tuckers soon found their rhythm. A well-placed dink by Ficner gave them their first lead at 13-12. Then another dink by Kelly Cassidy put Mattituck ahead for good in the first game at 15-14.
No. 3 seed Center Moriches (8-8) was at a height disadvantage. The Red Devils really had no one to provide a consistent block on the 6-foot Finnican, who was blocked only once by Dora Mayen. Mattituck held a 20-9 advantage in kills and a 14-1 dominance in dinks.
Mattituck ran off nine straight points in the second game for a 15-5 lead and then built an 18-11 cushion in the third game.
“Our passes went to our setters, and our setters did an excellent job setting the outside and middle up,” said Hinrichs.
Still, Massa could not relax, and paced the sideline. He has lost matches in five games after winning the first two games. He knows that nothing in volleyball can be taken for granted.
“I can absolutely tell you it is one of the most unenjoyable things I do in my life,” he said. “It’s absolutely nerve-racking. There’s no way to sit back and say I’m having fun now because every missed serve, every shanked ball, you’re dying inside.”
With their fans chanting, “Mat-ti-tuck! Mat-ti-tuck!”, the Tuckers saw their Game 3 lead cut to 22-20 on a service ace by Jordan Walther. That turned out to be Center Moriches’ last point of the year.
“It’s incredible,” Kupiszewska, clutching the championship plaque, said afterward. “We made history again, back to back county champions. It’s amazing.”
Now that Mattituck is within one win of reaching the state semifinals, returning to Glens Falls seems like a real possibility. Said Hinrichs, “I think if we play our game we’ll be headed back upstate.”