INDIANS 25, 25, 25, CLIPPERS 17, 13, 22
First place in Suffolk County League VIII belongs solely to the Shelter Island girls volleyball team. At least for now.
It might have seemed reasonable to assume that since the graduation this past spring of outside hitter Kelsey McGayhey and setter Haley Willumsen, two of the better players to have ever worn Shelter Island uniforms, the Indians would experience a decline of sorts.
Not at all.
Shelter Island, which has reached the New York State Class D semifinal pool four times since 2004, is still playing at a high level. The showdown between Shelter Island and Greenport/Southold, who entered Thursday’s match tied for first place, wasn’t the competitive battle some might have expected. Shelter Island took charge of the match at Greenport High School and won in three games, 25-17, 25-13, 25-22. The Indians deserved high marks in all facets of their game, from serving to defense to passing to hitting.
One thing remains clear: The Indians can still play.
“We were really looking forward to playing Greenport,” Katy Binder, a setter and outside hitter for Shelter Island (7-1, 6-0), said. “They’re the strongest [opponent] in our league. It’s nice to be able to play at a high pace constantly and be able to push each other. It was definitely exciting. Our energy was much higher than most games we play.”
Greenport/Southold (5-1, 5-1) looked unnerved by the occasion. The Clippers fell behind by 8-0 in the first game (thanks in part to Binder’s serving), 10-1 in the second game, and were unable to recover. Their first lead came at 4-3 in Game 3 when they picked up their play noticeably. The lead changed hands three times in that game. A kill by Erin Colligan made the score 23-20 Shelter Island. Greenport/Southold kept its hopes alive when a kill by Kendra King and a block by King pulled the Clippers to within one point of Shelter Island. But the Indians benefitted from a service error by Greenport/Southold before Morgan McCarthy put a ball away for the match point.
Binder totaled 16 assists to go with four service aces, three kills and two dinks. Alexis Gibbs added six kills and Colligan had five.
Shelter Island served 13 aces and surrendered only one ace to Greenport/Southold. Gibbs went 15 for 15 from the service line.
Greenport/Southold received 16 assists from Megan Demarest and nine kills from Shelby Kostal, who put all 11 of her serves in play.
“It’s a big win,” said Shelter Island coach Cindy Belt, whose team clinched a playoff berth with the victory. “We’ve been looking forward to seeing Greenport all season because they have been steadily progressing, getting stronger, stronger and stronger, and they’ve played well at tournaments and against all the other league teams. So, coming into it, even though we’ve been playing very well, I was not overly confident we’d take the match.”
The match was a letdown for Greenport/Southold, which had played so well two days earlier when it defeated Port Jefferson in three games.
“I feel like it was nerves, a lot of nerves, because we knew this was a really big game,” Greenport/Southold’s setter, Demarest, said. “We really wanted to go out there and do our best, but I think nerves got the best of us this time.”
While noting that Shelter Island is a strong team, Greenport/Southold middle blocker Kim Bracken said the Clippers weren’t as mentally prepared for the match as they were two days earlier in Port Jefferson. In the Port Jefferson match, she said, “we were all on our game, and today there were mistakes everywhere, and instead of picking each other up, like we should have and could have, it kind of just fell apart.”
Greenport/Southold coach Sue Kostal said: “No excuses, we didn’t play well. They came in and played very well. I think that if we play our game the way I know we can play our game, I think that we can beat them as well as they can beat us.”
Both teams wore hot pink shirts during pregame warmups. It was a “Dig Pink” match, which raised money for breast cancer awareness and research.
The teams could be involved in a dramatic return match when they play their final league match on Oct. 30 in Shelter Island. That contest could decide the league championship. Shelter Island is pursuing what would be a fourth straight league title.
It’s a testament to the strength of the Shelter Island program that no less than four former team members are currently playing college volleyball: Hope Kanarvogel (Unity College in Maine), McGayhey (Springfield College in Massachusetts), Willumsen (Keane State in New Hampshire) and Stephanie Vecchio (Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire).
Shelter Island seems to have absorbed the losses of such talent as well as anyone could have expected. The small island is still producing quality volleyball players like Binder, Saverina Chicka and Gibbs, an athletic middle hitter who can crush the ball.
“I think Shelter Island plays as a team,” Belt said. “Volleyball is the ultimate team sport, so you might have a couple of players who are really strong, but two people don’t win a match. We’ve always had strong players.”
“I don’t want to hear about last year,” she continued. “I don’t want to hear about who graduated because we are the team and we are good. No excuses because we have the talent, we have the heart, we have the drive.”
And now they have sole possession of first place.