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Girls Volleyball: Tuckers fight but fall in Westhampton

After Mattituck’s Viki Harkin finally put away a ball for the first point of the match — a long, hard-earned point — Westhampton Beach girls volleyball coach Lenny Zaloga called over to his counterpart, Frank Massa. “Frank,” he said, “this is going to be a long one.”

For a while there, Tuesday’s non-league match looked like it had the makings of a five-setter. It was settled in three sets, however, although there were some long points and entertaining volleyball along the way. In the end, though, the result was similar to most of the meetings between the two coaches, who between them have 65 years of experience coaching their respective teams. As Massa put it, his career record against Westhampton remains “one and whatever.”

Despite Class C Mattituck’s efforts, Westhampton, a Suffolk County Class A finalist the last four years, showed its quality in a 25-21, 26-24, 25-18 result on its home court.

“I love going up against Lenny Zaloga, I love it,” Massa said afterward. “I’ve learned a whole lot from him. I think he’s one of the top instructors in the county, if not the top one. He knows a lot about the game. By me watching him coach, I’ve learned a lot about what he does, how he does it, and I always know he’s going to have a strong team. He’s never had a team that we’ve come to play and I would say, ‘Wow, that team wasn’t that good.’ They’re always good.”

This year is no exception. Westhampton (5-1, 3-1 League VI) looks capable of making another strong postseason run with players like powerful outside hitter Cortina Green (11 kills, one block) and sure-handed setter Olivia Jayne (24 assists).

Mattituck (5-1, 5-0 League VIII) has undergone some changes since last year, although Harkin, a junior All-Conference outside hitter, and junior libero Jordan Osler, the League VII Rookie of the Year in 2017, are back with returning starting middle hitters Jillian Gaffga and Rachel Janis.

The first place Tuckers look like the class of League VIII and are bidding for their first league championship since 2004. Westhampton, though, represented a stiff test for Mattituck.

Mattituck shot out to a somewhat stunning 9-1 lead in the first set and even after Westhampton tied it at 12-12 with a service ace by Isabelle Smith, the Tuckers traded blows with the Hurricanes. Mattituck’s two setters, Miranda Hedges and Ashley Young, both rookies to the varsity game, did well, feeding balls to Harkin, nicknamed the “Flying Squirrel” for her aerial athleticism.

Westhampton took the set point, though, when a communication lapse on Mattituck’s part led to a ball dropping to the floor amid confused Tuckers.

“It doesn’t cost any money to open your mouth,” Massa said. “We got to learn that that could mean the difference between winning and losing.”

The second set was the real heartbreaker for Mattituck. A kill by Charlotte Keil gave the Tuckers a 24-22 lead. Zaloga called a timeout, and then Mattituck disintegrated. In succession, Mattituck committed a service error, a double contact and a hitting error before Green slammed down a kill to win it for Westhampton.

“I thought we had it,” said Harkin.

Massa said: “It’s the basics of the game that’s going to win or lose it, the routine plays. We’re going to make spectacular plays and so is the other team. It’s what team makes the more routine plays is the team that’s going to win.”

Harkin ended up with 13 kills and Hedges had 11 assists.

“In all the sets, there were brackets of time where the girls played really good volleyball, but those times have to be longer and the miscues have to be shorter,” said Massa.

Harkin had mixed feelings about the match. “I think my team did really good,” she said. “We obviously could have done better. I think we definitely need to work on finishing matches because we’re really good at fighting, but I feel like we need to pull it together at the end and win it.”

Of course, that’s a lot easier said than done against a team like Westhampton.

“We’ve known each other for a long time so we kind of know what to expect when we’re going to play each other,” said Zaloga, who also coaches some of the Tuckers on the Long Island Fury club team. “A lot of my kids know a lot of his kids, so it’s nice to be together. A lot of long points. A lot of good defense kept the ball off the floor. He’s got a good hitter, I’ve got a good hitter, so we kind of know they’re going to cancel each other out.”

For now, though, Massa’s record against Zaloga remains one-sided: one and whatever.

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Photo caption: Mattituck coach Frank Massa makes a point to his players during a timeout in Tuesday’s match at Westhampton Beach. (Credit: Bob Liepa)