Things had started off so easily for Mattituck that it was disarming when the Tuckers suddenly lost their game and were in danger of losing a match that had looked all but won.
That’s how it is with volleyball quite often, though. Without warning, momentum can shift from one side of the net to the other. Just how to win it back is the key.
After taking the first two sets of the Suffolk County Class C final Monday, Mattituck was put to the test at the most inopportune time. Its passing, setting and hitting deteriorated while Pierson/Bridgehampton raised its game.
What had the makings of a three-setter turned into a five-setter, thanks to Pierson’s feisty play. Just what Mattituck didn’t want.
But top-seeded Mattituck made sure the drama ended there and flew out to a 9-1 lead in the final set. The closest No. 2 Pierson came to the Tuckers after that was within five points at 10-5. Mattituck went on to triumph, 25-17, 25-15, 15-25, 23-25, 25-12, for its sixth county title in nine years, seventh in 16 years and first since 2015.
When a Pierson ball was hit out of play on match point, Mattituck’s bench charged onto the Shoreham-Wading River High School court to celebrate.
“It never went through my mind, did I think this could be our last day, maybe I don’t put these kneepads on for another year,” Mattituck junior outside hitter Viki Harkin said. “The pressure was definitely on, but we came out with a win, so that’s all that matters.”
Mattituck (15-2), competing in the playoffs for a 16th consecutive year, advances to the Long Island final, which will be played Sunday at Farmingdale State College. The Tuckers will face the winner of Tuesday’s Nassau County final between East Rockaway and Oyster Bay.
“It was incredible,” Mattituck junior libero Jordan Osler said of her team raising the county championship plaque. “Coming out with the win is one of the best feelings ever.”
Mattituck won five Long Island Class C championships in six years before being reclassified to Class B in 2016. Last year, arguably the strongest Mattituck team ever reached the first Suffolk Class B final in the Tuckers’ history, losing to Elwood/John Glenn. This year the Tuckers were dropped down a class and a league.
This year’s team is making its mark. Mattituck finished first in League VIII for its first league crown in 14 years.
Mattituck had beaten Pierson (13-3) twice in four sets in league play. This time around, the Tuckers had to put more time into it. Harkin certainly did her share, driving down 29 kills to go with four service aces and a block.
“Viki is one of the best overall players I know,” Osler (17 digs, four aces) said. “Viki can pass well. Viki can hit well. Viki can set well. Viki can see where the ball is going before the ball even comes over the net. She’s Superwoman.”
Miranda Hedges did her part with 27 assists and Jillian Gaffga added five aces.
Things went south for Mattituck in the third set, though. The Tuckers managed only three kills in the set, all by Harkin. Pierson closed out the set with 12 straight points behind freshman Sofia Mancino’s tough serving. For the match, Mancino went 25-for-27 from the service line for five aces. She also had 28 assists.
“We just lost our momentum,” Harkin said. “It’s hard when you have a tough server back there. If you don’t make that pass, if you don’t make the set, it seems like nothing was really clicking.”
Pierson had some firepower of its own in Celia Barranco (11 kills) and Hannah Tuma (10 kills, two blocks, one ace).
“We were passing poorly, and once you start passing poorly, then our setters have a harder time getting to the ball,” said Mattituck coach Frank Massa.
Mattituck pulled itself together in time to run away with the decisive fifth set. Harkin had four kills and a block for five of Mattituck’s first nine points. The Tuckers didn’t look threatened after that.
How did Mattituck regain the momentum?
“If I knew that, I’d be coaching at Penn State,” Massa said. “I have no idea. They had one or two places to go. They could have folded in the fifth [set] because they were up by two and gave it away, or they could have came out and fought hard. That was a 25-12 game, so I’d probably say their character is intact.”
As is their chance of winning a Long Island title and moving on to the state championships Nov. 17 and 18 in Glens Falls.
In the meantime, the Suffolk Class C championship returns to Mattituck.
“We wanted to take the title back,” Harkin said. “That’s what we did today.”
Photo caption: Mattituck players hit the court to celebrate their sixth county title in nine years, seventh in 16 years and first since 2015. (Credit: Garret Meade)