An emotional Senior Day is nothing new. What was unusual about the senior ceremony before the Greenport/Southold girls volleyball team’s final home match Friday, though, was the source of much of that emotion.
Greenport coach Mike Gunther has a hard outer shell, but he unexpectedly showed his softer side.
After Greenport junior varsity coach Nick Fioretti addressed the spectators at Greenport High School in his pregame presentation of his senior, outside hitter Anna Coria, it was Gunther’s turn to introduce the two seniors who play for his varsity team. Just seconds after introducing middle hitter Emily Russell and outside hitter Lupita Perez, Gunther had to cut short his remarks to compose himself.
“I got to tell you, it’s an honor and a privilege to coach both of them,” he said before tears welled in his eyes, his face reddened and he choked up.
“We haven’t seen him that emotional in a while,” said junior setter Liz Jernick.
What Gunther didn’t say spoke volumes about how he feels about the players. Following the match — a 25-17, 22-25, 25-9, 25-12 loss to Center Moriches — Gunther explained what was going through his head during the ceremony. “I was going to talk about how I have known these kids since they were in seventh grade,” he said. He continued: “It’s more than sport; it’s watching them grow up. They were little high school girls and now they’re young women ready to take on the world, and I’ve been thinking about all these nice things I was going to say about them and then — bang! — it just hit me that I’m saying goodbye to them. Sometimes it’s difficult to say goodbye to your kids. It’s not see you later; it’s goodbye.”
Is this a kinder, gentler Mike Gunther we’re seeing here?
Gunther indicated that is a question best answered by his players.
“I’ve coached over a hundred different teams,” he said. “I said goodbye to so many kids. Maybe it’s a culmination of that, but 10 years ago I didn’t cry.”
Now the Porters (4-8, 4-7 Suffolk County League VIII) are hoping they don’t have to shed tears about failing to reach the playoffs. To gain entry into the postseason, they will need to beat second-place Pierson/Bridgehampton Monday. Pierson entered its match Friday at Shelter Island with a 10-2 record, 7-2 in the league.
“Monday is a playoff game for us,” Gunther said. “It’s a playoff to get in the playoffs.”
In the first match between the teams Sept. 28, Pierson won in three sets.
Greenport has shown itself to be its own worst enemy at times, though. After the Porters won the second set against Center Moriches (11-4, 8-3), they collapsed in the third. The Red Devils ran off 16 straight points for a commanding 21-8 lead.
Gunther said, “We started to believe in ourselves, and I told the girls, ‘The next game they’re going to come out and try and smack us in the face,’ and they did.”
Jernick, who had four service aces and 11 assists, said: “I think that we just lost our motivation and our heart to win the game at that point, which we have to learn not to because we can’t expect to win the rest of the game after doing really well in one set. We have to keep it going.”
Center Moriches was led by Samantha Kremer (seven kills, two aces, one block), Alexandra Coyle (19 assists, five aces) and Elizabeth Strebel (five kills, two aces, two blocks).
Now, the heat is on the Porters.
“We have to win our very last game,” Jernick said. “I think if we work hard enough, we can definitely do it.”
Russell (eight kills, two blocks, one assist) said the showdown with Pierson is “a big game for us.”
What if Greenport found itself in the playoffs?
“That would be so amazing,” Russell said. “I would jump up and down.”
It is, after all, an emotional game.
Photo caption: Greenport/Southold coach Mike Gunther hugs one of his two seniors, middle hitter Emily Russell, in an emotional Senior Day ceremony. (Credit: Garret Meade)