Girls Volleyball Preview: Tuckers return to Class C

The Mattituck High School girls volleyball team is back in Class C.

The Tuckers must be A-OK with that, no?

“Can I tell you at the end of the year?” coach Frank Massa answered. “No, I’m generally OK with it.”

Mattituck (13-4) had a rather remarkable 2017 season. The Tuckers split their regular-season series with Class B powerhouses Elwood/John Glenn and Bayport-Blue Point, took second place in League VII and reached the first Suffolk County Class B final in their history. But that is where it came to an end for them, losing to Glenn in three sets.

“That was a very talented team,” Massa said of last year’s Tuckers. “There was a lot of experience, a lot of veteran leadership. We were solid at every position and we lost a lot of players from last year, so there’s going to be big shoes to fill.”

Mattituck had won five Suffolk Class C titles in a six-year span before being bumped up to Class B in 2016. So, Class C could mean an opportunity to advance far into the playoffs. Mattituck, which hasn’t won a league championship since 2004, has also been dropped down a league to League VIII.

But this is a largely untested Mattituck team. Some players are transitioning to new positions and others are learning what the varsity game is all about.

“The biggest difference is a lot of girls last year had a lot of court experience,” Massa said. “This year that is not the case.”

Massa, in his 32nd year as Mattituck’s coach, has a couple of high-profile veterans he can count on as the Tuckers try to reach the playoffs for a 15th consecutive year. Viki Harkin is a junior All-Conference outside hitter, and junior libero Jordan Osler was the League VII Rookie of the Year in 2017.

“Both of them are strong servers and play their position very well,” Massa said. “Viki passes and hits from the back row, and Jordan is one of the best passers I’ve ever had.”

Senior setter/middle hitter Jillian Gaffga and senior middle hitter Rachel Janis were also starters last year. More varsity know-how is offered by middle hitters Dominique Crews, Gabrielle Dwyer, Mikayla Osmer and Bayleigh Rienecker and defensive specialist Emily McKillop.

Making the jump up from the junior varsity are outside hitters Charlotte Keil and Jessica Mazzeo, defensive specialists Hayden Kitz, Veronica Pugliese and Julia Schimpf, middle hitter Kathryn Thompson, setter Ashley Young and right-side hitter Rylie Skrezec.

“They listen well,” Massa said. “They try to do the things I ask them to do. A little green right now, but with some court time and experience they should be fine.”

Greenport/Southold would like to forget 0-10 (as in the team’s record last year) and focus on another number: 37.

That’s the number of players who have come out for Greenport’s varsity and JV teams, the most Mike Gunther has seen as Greenport’s coach. Having so many players to work with is what Gunther calls a “happy dilemma.”

Gunther said he would like to retain 14-16 players for the varsity team. Ten players are returners. Last year Greenport had 13 players (12 healthy) on its roster.

Coaches like it when there’s competition for positions, and Gunther is no different. “If someone is not doing well, there is now a bench, waiting there to come in and take your spot,” he said. He said all the returners have improved, “but they’re so even that it’s going to be difficult to pick a starter.”

Liz Jernick, an All-League junior setter, captains the Porters along with senior middle hitter Emily Russell. Jessica Mele, a junior middle hitter, was a starter last year. Junior setter Rhian Tramontana also figures to be in the mix along with junior defensive specialist Andria Palencia.

Competing for spots as outside hitters are sophomore Courtney Cocheo, junior Jessica Villareal and senior Lupita Perez. Among the middle hitter candidates are sophomore Silvia Rackwitz and junior Isabelle Higgins, who broke an ankle early last season.

“The team is going to be scary hitting out of the middle,” Gunther said. “Every kid on this team will attack the ball. We will hit the ball from everywhere.”

Having a deep team works to Greenport’s benefit, especially this season. The Porters will play a lot of Friday and Monday games, with tournaments on some Saturdays. Gunther said, “At tournaments, I’m just going to go deep into the bench.”

Depth shouldn’t be a problem.

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Photo caption: Viki Harkin, a junior All-Conference outside hitter, is one of the players Mattituck is counting on. (Credit: Garret Meade, file)

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