CLIPPERS 3, MONARCHS 0 (28-26, 26-24, 25-13)
As the Greenport/Southold Clippers prepared to take the court for the start of Thursday night’s match at McGann-Mercy, an unexpected ceremony unfolded.
Mercy’s four seniors greeted the Clippers at their bench with a gift: a yellow rose for every player and coach.
Attached to the rose was a note, which read: “We may be opponents on the court, but when the game ends, and we go our separate ways, there’s no reason why we can’t be friends.”
It’s a tradition the Monarchs started this season. The seniors hand out the roses to their league opponents when they play their final game against them.
It caught the Clippers by surprise.
“It kind of touched my heart a little bit,” said Greenport senior Shelby Kostal. “It was a nice gesture.”
A collective “Awww!” from the Clippers filled the gym when the Monarchs began handing out the roses.
“I love roses,” Greenport coach Susan Kostal said afterward. “They’re my favorite.”
When it came time to play, the Clippers fought through a sluggish start to sweep Mercy 3-0 and improve to 7-1 in League VIII. The loss dropped Mercy to 3-6 in League VIII and facing an uphill battle to reach the postseason.
The Clippers found themselves dealing with some early jitters a day after clinching a playoff spot.
Part of it had to do with who was in attendance. The head coach from SUNYIT (Institute of Technology at Utica/Rome) was on hand to watch outside hitter Shelby Kostal play. Kostal said she visited the school a few weeks ago as her college search begins to heat up.
“I have no clue where I want to go,” she said. “It’s a hard choice because there are so many teams out there, so many different programs and you don’t know which one you’re going to fit into.”
Kostal said she’s known since her freshman year that she wanted to play volleyball in college.
“It kind of runs in my family,” she said. “But I didn’t really start hammering down and thinking about it until the start of my senior year.”
She put on an impressive performance Thursday, helping lead the Clippers to come-from-behind victories in the first two games. The Monarchs were a point away from winning Game 1 and two points from taking Game 2. The Clippers came back from a 21-15 hole in Game 2.
Greenport prevailed 28-26 in Game 1 and 26-24 in Game 2 before putting it all together for a runaway win in Game 3, 25-13.
The Clippers thought the Monarchs could give them trouble with their freeball style of play. Without any heavy hitters, the Monarchs shy away at times from the traditional set/serve routine in favor of quick hits to try to land the ball into no-man’s land.
“I always get nervous playing Mercy,” Susan Kostal said.
The Monarchs stick to their strengths and it worked for them throughout the first two games.
Shelby said the freeball style makes it hard to predict where the ball is going.
“Usually when a hitter goes up to hit you can read her arm and where you’re going to hit,” she said. “But when they send that freeball over, anywhere can be the spot. It’s hard to practice for that.”
Mercy coach Jamie Calandro said it’s about relying on smarts.
“They use their best skills to their advantage,” he said.
The Monarchs scored back-to-back points in Game 1 on a kill from junior Fiona Nunez and ace from senior Caitlyn Walsh to make it 23-20. The teams traded points, putting Mercy one away from the victory. But the Clippers fought back to tie it and the teams continued to trade points until it was tied at 26. Greenport scored the next two points to finally prevail.
“I think Mercy came out to play and they played really hard,” Shelby said. “I think we just had to settle down. For some reason we were so nervous and uptight.”
Mercy led by as many as eight in the second game and appeared on the verge of tying the match. But after the Clippers got the ball back following a Mercy service error, senior Nina Papamichael rolled off seven straight service points. It put the Clippers ahead 23-21. Senior Megan Van Gorden ended the game shortly after with an ace to give the Clippers a commanding 2-0 lead.
Calandro said the key for the Monarchs is controlling their emotions on the court.
“We’ve been battling the balance between emotions and volleyball a lot this year,” he said. “The girls hold themselves to a high standard. Sometimes when they feel like they don’t meet that standard, it falls apart.”
Greenport gets right back at it Friday with a non-league match against Mattituck. The Monarchs have a long break before returning to action Oct. 23 against Ross. The Monarchs will need to win their final three league matches to reach the playoffs.