Reaching the state girls volleyball tournament is a genuine thrill. However, once there, a team can be given a rude reminder — like a hard-hit volleyball smacking it in the face — of just how tough the competition is at that lofty stage.
And so it was for Mattituck Saturday in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Championships at Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls.
Mattituck was outscored, 150-107, losing all six sets it played against the three other Class C teams in the state semifinal pool. The Tuckers, making their sixth appearance in the state semifinals, have a career record of 1-35 in state semifinal sets. The sole win came in the final set they played in 2015, the last time they made the trip to Glens Falls.
Mattituck, which raised its record to 16-2 with its victory over East Rockaway in the Long Island final, knew what it was up against when it paraded with the other Class C semifinalists into the 4,774-seat arena to the applause of fans for the afternoon wave of action. The volleyball at this level is good. Real good.
At the same time, this was a new experience for all of the Mattituck players, none of whom had played in the state semifinals before.
“You can’t describe what they’re going to run into,” said Frank Massa, who is in his 32nd year as Mattituck’s coach. “They have to see it for themselves. There’s no way I can describe Portville to them. We played no team this year — and we played some very good teams — that matches that type of competition that we were up against.”
Mattituck senior middle hitter Jillian Gaffga, her voice hoarse, said, “We did everything that we could have done.”
Right from the start, the girls in the blue shirts had their hands full, facing defending champion Portville in their first two sets. In the first set, Portville shot out to a 5-0 lead, which it then extended to 10-2 and 16-6 before winning, 25-10.
Welcome to Glens Falls.
In the second set, a Viki Harkin kill tied the score at 5-5 for Mattituck, but Portville then pulled ahead to a 21-14 lead. Mattituck showed some tenacity, though, and pulled to within 24-21 before Portville closed out a 25-22 victory.
“That was probably the best set we’ve ever played up here,” said Massa.
Portville (6-0) went on to pound Voorheesville, 25-8 and 25-17, to clinch a place in Sunday’s final.
Following a two-set break for the Tuckers, they dropped two sets to Millbrook, 25-16 and 25-15. That eliminated Mattituck from contention for reaching the final.
It was during the first set against Millbrook when Mattituck libero Jordan Osler had a finger stepped on by a teammate after she dove for a ball. Although the junior said she felt pain every time she passed the ball after that, she kept playing.
“What motivated me was I didn’t want to disappoint my team,” she said. “I wanted to go out there and give it everything I got.”
Mattituck exhibited pluckiness in its final two sets against Voorheesville, flirting with victory in both of those sets.
In the first one, Mattituck held leads of 10-6, 18-13 and 22-15 before Voorheesville pulled to within 23-20. Voorheesville then came back for a 25-23 triumph.
In the second set, Mattituck trailed, 23-20, before Voorheesville prevailed, 25-21, forcing a one-set playoff against Millbrook for the right to face Portville in a rematch of last year’s final. Millbrook won the playoff, 25-16.
“They have shown that they can play on that type of level,” Massa said. “We had a little bit of a dip against Millbrook. We didn’t seem to have our serve receive going very well. We fought, but I don’t think we were in either of those two sets. These two sets [against Voorheesville] I thought should have been ours. We just couldn’t finish it off.”
So, in what areas does Mattituck need to improve in next year?
“Communication is the number one thing,” Osler said. “We’ve been lacking in that all year, and … we all need to keep a positive mindset because sometimes we get down on ourselves and then they start getting a run on us and it really hurts us in the end and we just need to get out of that.”
Massa said, “We hung in tough, but not tough enough.”
In the final analysis, it’s hard to complain about a trip to the state tournament.
Said Massa, “If the season ends in Glens Falls, then you can’t say it was anything but a success, and here we are.”
WITH BOB LIEPA
Photo caption: Mattituck senior middle hitter Jillian Gaffga makes a pass while teammate Viki Harkin watches during a set against Portville in the state semifinals at Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls Saturday. (Credit: Jenn March)