Sue Kostal had trouble believing what her eyes were seeing.
While the coach was reviewing video of her Greenport/Southold girls volleyball team playing, she noticed something extraordinary as she watched her 5-foot-3 outside hitter, Marina DeLuca, leap up to strike a ball. While in the air, DeLuca’s feet were level with the bottom of the net!
Talk about hops.
“We were just like, ‘Is she coming down?’ ” recalled Kostal.
DeLuca, along with setter Sydney Mulvaney, is the shortest player on the team. She may also be the Clippers’ most fearsome — and overlooked — hitter.
DeLuca, a sophomore, was introduced to volleyball in junior high school. It was a good recruiting job by Kostal, the only volleyball coach DeLuca has ever had.
“I ripped her right from soccer,” Kostal said. “I said, ‘You are not playing soccer.’ I said: ‘You have got this natural talent. You are not wasting it running up and down a field.’ I said, ‘No way.’ ”
And so, DeLuca became a volleyball player. She was a setter at first, but that lasted only briefly, until Kostal saw her jump, initiating an immediate position change. She was quickly converted into a hitter.
DeLuca said her vertical leap has never been measured, and she was unaware of her jumping ability until she took up volleyball. Now, she said, she even surprises herself with the heights she reaches to attack a ball. “Sometimes when I see a video … I’m like, ‘Whoa! I’m actually that high up?’ ” she said.
DeLuca is already in her third year as a varsity starter. She, along with juniors Sam Henry and Kendra King, are the team’s only returning players from last year’s Suffolk County Class C finalists.
Given DeLuca’s short stature, it’s easy for opponents to ignore her and opt not put up a block against her, but they do so at their own risk. Her ability to surprise teams, she said, is something she enjoys.
“She’s my secret weapon,” said Kostal.
DeLuca is also known for a competitive fire that matches her leaping ability. During a match against Bishop McGann-Mercy last Thursday, a McGann-Mercy player ignited DeLuca’s ire when she suggested that one of the Clippers “mess up.” That was all DeLuca had to hear.
“I was like, ‘You’re going down,’ ” she said. “When I get angry, I play better.”
DeLuca had her moments in the match. Her best hit came in the first game when, as if leaping off a springboard, she crushed a set from Sydney Mulvaney. DeLuca finished with 4 kills, 3 assists and 1 dink. Using her jump serve, she went 7 for 9 at the service line.
Kostal said DeLuca is working on her jump serve and her defense is improving. DeLuca’s quickness is a help. “It’s ridiculous how quick she is,” said Kostal.
DeLuca helped the Clippers prevail in a five-game thriller over McGann-Mercy, 25-23, 25-23, 18-25, 16-25, 25-13, on their home court.
“I cried a little bit because I was so worked up,” she said. “It was just a release.”
DeLuca said the Greenport High School gym is her home and the team is her family. She said she loves the closeness of the team.
“It’s such a core group, and it’s like I can come in here and I can talk to any one of them like they’re my best friend,” she said. “That’s a great feeling to have.”
DeLuca said she would like to play in college. “I hope I’m able to get there,” she said.
Of course, she has a way to go before then. In the meantime, her teammates and her have shorter-term goals, like reaching the playoffs. That will not be easy, though, with the purple-clad Clippers having lost five of their first eight matches.
“They want to go to playoffs so bad, and they know they dug a hole,” said Kostal.
DeLuca expects to do her part, and she is superstitious enough to hope that the yellow ribbon she wears in her hair will help.
“I got it this year,” she said. “… I think we needed some yellow in our purple. So, I’ve just been wearing it this season, and I think it’s a little bit of a good-luck charm now.”
That isn’t the only good-luck charm the Clippers have.