They call her, for good reason, “The Flying Squirrel.”
More than anything, it’s a reference to Viki Harkin’s athleticism. At 5-foot-5, she has a vertical leap that can catch opponents by surprise, just like she has caught people by surprise with her ascension on the volleyball court.
The Tuckers are best known for their two hard-swinging outside hitters, Madison Osler and Kathryn Zaloom. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Harkin entered the picture.
Last year Harkin was a reserve player for the Mattituck High School junior varsity team. She began this season as a starter for the varsity team, as a freshman, to boot. That’s quite a leap, even for a flying squirrel.
Harkin played junior high ball when she was in seventh grade. She was brought up to the JV team last year as an eighth-grader. She started the year as an outside hitter before being moved to setter for the remainder of the season. Now she is a starting middle hitter for the big team.
“It’s crazy,” said Harkin, who noted she was surprised herself to have won a starting position.
Coach Frank Massa said that last year Harkin “wasn’t as strong as she is right now. And then, over the summertime and during the tryouts, I saw that she definitely had the ability to play up here.”
The provenance for the nickname is believed to have come from the school’s athletic trainer, Colleen McGowan. It’s a fitting appellation.
Describing her style on and off the court, Harkin, who has a passion for blocking, said: “I always jump around. I’m very active.”
Massa values Harkin’s consistency. “You know,” he said, “a mistake here or there, but she is mentally tough, doesn’t let it affect her play and she cruises along at a pretty high level.”
Energetic. Bubbly. And just plain good. That all describes Harkin, who isn’t merely filling a roster spot. She is making vital contributions.
“Last year it was a little bit of a surprise on JV, but this year it’s like, ‘Wow!’ ” junior libero Jaime Gaffga said. “She’s only a freshman. She’s very good for her age. I think she’s a natural athlete.”
“The Flying Squirrel” can seemingly do it all. She has a good all-around game.
“My passing is probably still not a hundred percent,” she said. “I’m going to work on that this year. I’m playing good, I think. I can do better, but right now I think I’m playing pretty well.”
What has changed in Harkin over the past year?
“Experience,” Massa said. “Court time. She has a great sense of the ball. She can do a lot of different techniques on the volleyball court. She serves at a high percentage, has a great swing. She is leading the team in blocks. She could set if she had to. She can do a lot of different things.”
Including defeating a senior boy to bring her freshman class glory in an obstacle-course competition on Friday.
“I don’t know if it was incredible, but it was pretty good,” said Gaffga.
Harkin said playing club volleyball for the Long Island FURY has helped her a lot. She played for the FURY along with Osler and Osler’s younger sister, Jordan, a member of the Mattituck JV team.
What is the biggest thing Harkin has learned in volleyball?
“You just got to keep your head up,” she said. “If you mess up, you just got to keep going because it’s all mental.”
Photo caption: Mattituck freshman Viki Harkin, hitting the ball against Southampton this season, has gone from junior varsity substitute to varsity starter. (Credit: Garret Meade, file)