CLIPPERS 25, 25, 25, ROYALS 19, 20, 23
The seeds of victory were sown amid the ashes of defeat and disappointment. Tremendous disappointment.
Even now, nearly a full year later, the pain of the Greenport/Southold girls volleyball team’s loss to Center Moriches in its final regular-season match still stings. That defeat cost the Clippers a coveted playoff spot. Their season ended right then and there.
“It was terrible,” recalled Greenport/Southold’s standout outside hitter, Shelby Kostal.
But, in an odd way, it was perhaps fortuitous for the Clippers. If not for that loss, they may not find themselves where they are right now: undefeated, sitting atop the Suffolk County League VIII standings, and playing some of the best volleyball the team has seen in a decade.
That loss to Center Moriches did much more than just eliminate the Clippers from postseason contention; it provided them with motivation to work on their game, qualify for the playoffs this year, and make a serious dent into the postseason schedule.
“It’s the driving force,” Kostal said. “That sad feeling, we don’t ever want to feel that again.”
The results so far have been impressive, and the improvement the team has made since last year has been astounding. Almost as astounding as the remarkable comeback Greenport/Southold executed on Tuesday. Despite twice trailing by nine points in the third game, most recently at 18-9, Greenport/Southold rallied for a rousing 25-23 triumph over Port Jefferson in the third and decisive game of their league match.
The first-place Clippers (5-0, 5-0) received two service aces from Kim Bracken and a pair of kills by Shelby Kostal off sets from Megan Demarest down the stretch to close out the match at Port Jefferson High School. Greenport/Southold won the first two games, 25-19, 25-20.
After Kostal connected for the match point, the Clippers excitedly congratulated each other on the court as if they had won a playoff match.
“Amazing,” said Bracken.
Greenport/Southold played a clean, sharp match against a veteran Port Jefferson team that is talented in its own right. The Clippers served aggressively yet consistently at 90.5 percent, and recorded 17 service aces. Port Jefferson (3-4, 3-2) had 11 service errors and four aces.
In Game 3, Greenport/Southold strayed from its power game a bit, and paid a price, falling behind by 17-8 and then 18-9.
“I think that third game, we played a little bit more of their game, a soft game, I call it,” Greenport/Southold coach Sue Kostal said. “We can’t do that. If we play soft, we’re going to lose soft. That third game, we were passing it, we were tipping it, we were rolling it.”
To their credit, though, the Clippers didn’t panic. They kept their focus, whittled away at Port Jefferson’s lead, and scored the final seven points of the game.
“We went back to the power game and, boom, we beat them,” said Sue Kostal, who is Shelby’s mother.
Shelby Kostal, who went 15 for 15 serving with four aces, put away nine kills in the match. Demarest provided 19 assists. Three straight aces by Nina Papamichael finished the second game for the Clippers.
Amanda San-Roman supplied 10 assists and Rachel Nielsen had seven kills for Port Jefferson.
“They did a great job,” Port Jefferson coach Bob Conlin said of the Clippers. “We didn’t play horribly, but we didn’t play good. We were a little bit flat. We didn’t make the adjustments that we could have made to make a difference in the game.”
Sue Kostal said the last time the Clippers have played this well was in 2002, which also happens to be the last time they won a league championship. “That’s what we’re chasing right now,” she said.
Greenport/Southold, which has won 15 of the 17 games it has played, is tied for first place with Shelter Island (6-1, 5-0). Those teams are to meet on Thursday in Greenport for sole possession of first place. The winner of that match will also qualify for the playoffs, with half of the league season still to be played.
The Clippers have been receiving some nice contributions from some of their younger players like freshman outside hitter Marina DeLuca and sophomore defensive specialist Samantha Henry. But it is the team’s seniors, such as Bracken, Kostal and Demarest who must sense an urgency to make this a special season.
“I think that now we just have a drive to be better,” Bracken said. “It is our last year, so the stakes are higher.”
Shelby Kostal, an all-conference player last year who is being recruited by a number of colleges, likes a lot of things about her team, but what she cherishes most of all has nothing to do with bumps, sets or spikes.
“The love on the court is indescribable,” she said. “The fact that I can go shank five balls, and my team still loves me, it just feels so good.”
It’s undoubtedly a better feeling than what the Clippers experienced after that fateful loss to Center Moriches in 2011.