Girls Volleyball: Tuckers have a league title to call their own

Before going into Dig Pink mode, the Mattituck High School girls volleyball team dug something else: its first league championship in 14 years.

With a three-set win at Shelter Island Friday, Mattituck assured itself of a share of the Suffolk County League VIII title.

“It’s crazy that we have gone to states and done all of this crazy stuff, and then we haven’t won a league championship” in all of that time, said junior outside hitter Viki Harkin.

Of course, in each of those intervening years, Mattituck was in the same league as powerhouses Elwood/John Glenn and Bayport-Blue Point. Enough said. It should be pointed out, however, that Mattituck came close last year, finishing second in League VII.

The Tuckers were dropped down to League VIII this year and have been reclassified as a Class C team after being in Class B the last two years. That means they don’t have to worry about Glenn or Bayport in the standings or the playoffs.

That spells opportunity.

“We took it,” said Harkin.

Miranda Hedges, a junior setter, said: “A lot of these girls haven’t ever experienced it before and now we know what it feels like. We want to keep it that way and keep going ahead positively.”

If nothing else, Mattituck has learned to cherish league championships. They don’t come easily or often for most teams. Yet, coach Frank Massa is looking down the road at the challenges ahead.

“Of course it feels nice that you have won the league championship, but that just shows perseverance and some consistency throughout the year,” he said, adding: “But the aim has to be to kind of forget about that. That’s nice, but there’s going to be a playoff game or two that we’re going to have to be ready for … It’s been a good year so far, but the run that you make in the playoffs really has a lasting affect.”

For the second time this season, Mattituck dispatched Greenport/Southold in three sets, 25-15, 25-16, 25-14, in its Dig Pink match Monday at Mattituck High School. The Tuckers (12-2, 11-0), wearing pink tie-dye shirts that they made, assured themselves of sole possession of first place with the win.

Throughout the match in a gym festooned with pink and white balloons, Mattituck trailed only once, and briefly, at 3-2 in the first set after consecutive hitting errors. It was a fairly ugly set for the Tuckers but, as good teams do, they cleaned things up and obtained the desired result.

The high-flying, hard-swinging Harkin cranked eight kills to go with three service aces and a block. Mattituck’s two new setters, Ashley Young (nine) and Hedges, combined for 15 assists. Young, a sophomore, also went 19-for-19 from the service line.

“Honestly, they’re doing really well,” Harkin said of her setters. “Setting is definitely the hardest. If I was setting, I’d probably get double touches every time. I don’t know how they do it.”

Emily Russell pounded down nine kills for Greenport (4-7, 4-6). Liz Jernick added nine assists, a kill and a block, and Courtney Cocheo made 13 digs.

Greenport hurt itself with nine service errors and an 81 percent efficiency at the service line. Mattituck served at 93 percent with five service errors.

Greenport is trying to scratch its way into the playoffs. The Porters have two league matches remaining: Friday at home against Center Moriches and at Pierson/Bridgehampton Oct. 22.

For the first time after two winless seasons, Greenport’s final regular-season match will mean something. “The last match will mean a lot now,” said coach Mike Gunther.

What is Gunther’s take on newly crowned Mattituck?

“Their skilled players have all-around skills,” he said. “They’re really aggressive. They’re comfortable with what they’re doing … The hitters hit and they expect to succeed.”

Mattituck has three regular-season matches left — non-leaguers against Shoreham-Wading River Friday and Bayport next Monday and a league encounter with Center Moriches Oct. 25.

“We have three quality teams coming up,” Massa said. “We have to get ourselves ready for the playoffs.”

Not long after the teams exchanged postgame handshakes Monday, Massa and the Tuckers disappeared into a back gym.

“We went in the back gym and we got rowdy,” Hedges said. “We cheered.”

And why not? The Tuckers have a lot to cheer about these days.

“It’s exciting,” Harkin said. “In the beginning of the season, this was our goal, and to complete this, it’s a big deal.”

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Photo caption: Mattituck outside hitter Charlotte Keil hitting past a block attempt by Greenport/Southold’s Isabelle Higgins. (Credit: Garret Meade)