The spectacular is great for highlight reels and “SportsCenter,” but Frank Massa is more than content with making the routine plays, well, routine.
What the Mattituck High School girls volleyball coach wants to see is consistency on passes being made that should be made and sets being made that should be made.
He said: “I tell the girls, ‘You’re going to make spectacular plays because we’re going to have girls diving all over the floor, and that’s spectacular. That’s going to happen no matter what. What we need is that ball that’s floating over the net, you know, following the ball, getting underneath it and making a nice pass and then making a nice set and getting a good swing on the ball.’ Forget the spectacular, I just like the routine.”
That made what Massa saw from his players Monday morning all the more uplifting. The Tuckers played as if they were on automatic pilot from start to finish, turning in a clean three-set win over visiting Babylon, 25-9, 25-13, 25-14. Certainly, there were spectacular moments — most notably on thunderous hits by the high-flying Viki Harkin — but most of it was routine, consistently routine, with no hiccups along the way.
“Everything’s determined by the first pass, so it’s getting the right first pass, then getting the right set, then getting the right hit,” Mattituck outside hitter Charlotte Keil said. “Everything came together nicely.”
While lacking the flash of spectacular, routine can do a lot for a team. In this case, it could lead Mattituck (9-1, 8-0 Suffolk County League VIII) to its first league championship since 2004. The Tuckers look as if they are rolling in that direction. With the exception of three four-setters, all of their matches have been decided in three sets.
“I think, especially for our seniors, we want it a lot,” said Keil, a junior. “I think that would mean everything to us.”
With every league match, Mattituck has taken a step closer toward becoming a champion.
Harkin looked as good as ever Monday, springboarding up to the net and crushing venomous drives. She finished with 12 kills and two service aces from 12-for-12 serving. Ashley Young brought Mattituck 17 assists, two aces and two kills.
But Mattituck brings more to the floor than just those two. Keil showed she can hit, too. She put away five of her six kills in the second set, including four in a row that made the score 23-12 Mattituck.
“I think she’s amazing,” Mattituck defensive specialist Emily McKillop said. “I think that she’s definitely one of our best hitters and I think she can pretty much work with anything she’s given. I think she’s such a great asset for our team to have in the front row.”
Keil’s older sister, Caroline Keil, played for Mattituck as a middle hitter. But Charlotte is more of an offensive threat with her hitting ability.
“She’s got no fear that woman, no fear whatsoever,” Massa said. “She’s progressing, there’s no doubt about it. She’s starting to take more advantage of the sets that she’s getting and she’s more confident in her swinging, so have at it.
“She plays right side, she plays outside. Stick her anywhere in the front row, she’s tall, lanky, she’ll block, she’ll push, she’ll touch — all the things that you need somebody in the front row to do.”
With new setters in Miranda Hedges and Young, it may have taken Mattituck’s hitting game a little time to kick into full gear this year.
“In the beginning of the season, after having some time off, it was kind of tough to get my timing down right,” Keil said. She added, “Everything’s starting to come together now, so I think that’s helped my hitting a lot, and everyone’s hitting.”
Rylie Skrezec and Rachel Janis can also swing at the ball pretty well. “Those are girls we can trust with the ball,” said McKillop.
Mattituck compiled 26 kills to eight by Babylon (3-5, 2-4) and served at 95 percent.
Now, Coach Massa, how about the prospect of the team’s first league title in 14 years?
“We get closer and closer and that would be something nice,” he said. “I’d be lying to you if [I told you] that wasn’t on our minds to win a league title, but I keep on bringing back 2004, the last time we won the league title and ended up losing in the [county] final. The league title is nice, but that’s really the first step. Once the playoffs start, that’s what really counts. I mean, winning the league title shows consistency over the season, but you want to be able to perform when the big games come up.”
“We’re doing OK,” he said. “We need to play like this every time out, and it’s getting to crunch time, so we’re going to have to step it up.”
So, he tells his players, forget about the spectacular and focus on the routine.
Photo caption: The Mattituck players, led by middle hittler Rachel Janis (7) take the court against Babylon in Monday’s matinee. (Credit: Bob Liepa)