They say good things are worth waiting for. The Mattituck High School girls volleyball team had waited long enough for this milestone.
It didn’t come easily. Then again, nothing comes easily at the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Championships, where the top four teams from each of five classes compete for state titles at Glens Falls Civic Center. There is no such thing as a cheap win here. Wins are earned and they are hard to come by.
Probably no team knew that better than Mattituck. Since their first appearance in the state Class C semifinal pool six years ago, the Tuckers have made five trips to Glens Falls and have found that the caliber of volleyball they face in the state tournament is unlike anything they see elsewhere.
“It’s unbelievable,” Meghan McKillop, a senior libero, said. “We don’t see that on Long Island.”
That made what happened in Mattituck’s final game of the season on Saturday all the more sweeter for the Tuckers. They had held leads in state semifinals before, only to see them disappear in defeat. So, after dropping their first five games Saturday, the Tuckers made the most of their last chance for a coveted W.
Senior setter Carly Doorhy said: “We were like, ‘Guys, we have to make history. This whole day we’ve been losing. Let’s just go out there, leave our hearts on the floor. Let’s just do it.’ ”
And they did.
They capitalized on rare errors by Broadalbin Perth, took the lead three times and held a 24-17 advantage that coach Frank Massa said he was feeling pretty good about at the time.
As it turned out, the Tuckers needed every one of those points as Broadalbin Perth staged a furious comeback attempt. What had been a 7-point lead began to dwindle, point by point. Suddenly, Massa’s coaching mind started racing. Who was on the service line? What was going to happen if Broadalbin Perth started running off points? How many timeouts did the Tuckers have left? How many substitutions could he make?
As it turned out, Madison Osler’s 10th kill of the day didn’t come too soon, putting an end to the game, a 25-23 result in Mattituck’s favor.
“Unbelievable,” said a relieved Massa.
Just like that an 0-29 career record in state semifinals became 1-29. That sole win has tremendous meaning for the Tuckers, including their nine seniors, who concluded their high school careers with a win in Glens Falls. One of those seniors, middle hitter Dawn Rochon, said: “The school is never going to forget it; we’re never going to forget it.”
Doorhy said, “We came out with something at the end of the day, and if we didn’t, we’re still a family.”
After his team was ousted in last year’s state semifinals, Massa explained the difficulty of winning in the state tournament by saying winning in Glens Falls is an awful lot harder than getting there. He was right on the mark.
The competition in the state tournament is exceptional. It is volleyball the way it is supposed to be played, and teams have precious little margin for error against the likes of Eden, which won a record 13th New York championship on Sunday, and Millbrook, the team it defeated in the final.
Massa said: “When you look at [who] your opponent is out there and you’re looking at what they’re doing, you’re saying, ‘Oh my God!’ I’m yelling at my girls, ‘You can’t serve out.’ I don’t care what you do, you can’t hand these teams points, and you hand it to them in bunches and it’s done, it’s over.”
Just to get a sense of how good these teams are, consider this: The Tuckers took a 17-4 record with them to Glens Falls. Not too shabby.
But the Tuckers had their hands full with two games apiece against Eden, Millbrook and Broadalbin Perth. In the six games they played, the Tuckers were outpointed, 148-97. Their opponents held considerable advantages in service aces (35-3), assists (62-31) and kills (58-27).
And still, regardless, the Tuckers didn’t appear intimidated by a setting that can be intimidating. They have shown composure throughout the entire postseason. Perhaps that’s a testament to the 14 upperclassmen on the team. Then again, the team’s two sophomore outside hitters, Kathleen Zaloom and Osler, looked up for the challenge. Zaloom led the team with 13 kills in the semifinals.
The Tuckers were led last year by Emilie Reimer, the best hitter the team has had in decades. Without her, the Tuckers wouldn’t have reached the playoffs.
This year, however, with Reimer playing for SUNY/Cobleskill, the Tuckers were — would you believe it? — playing better. They were a better all-around team with talent spread out and good depth, to boot. In Doorhy, they had a smart setter and a good leader. She declared it the best Mattituck team ever.
It surely was one of the closest, which may be why McKillop said tears came to her eyes after the last game. She said, “I think it really hit us right as we won that this was the last time this was ever going to happen and that we were going to be together, and that just makes it really special.”
Photo Caption: The Mattituck volleyball team huddles together during Saturday’s pool play at the state tournament in Glens Falls. (Credit: Jim Ellis)