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Girls Volleyball: Tuckers, now 8-1, take winning approach to compressed season

Coach Frank Massa had a philosophical question for his Mattituck girls volleyball players before the start of this compressed season: Did they want to treat this as a season in which they were just happy to be out on the court again or did they really want to compete?

“And, to a girl, they said they wanted to compete and try to win as much as they could,” he said.

That approach has been a winner for first-place Mattituck. Beyond the halfway point of the season, Mattituck is a hit, no small thanks to its hitting ability. The Tuckers hold their fate in their hands as they bid for what would be their eighth league championship and third in a row.

“I think we have a lot of talent on the team and we play well together and we should be winning a lot,” said outside hitter Bridget Ryan.

Greenport’s Julia Jaklevic passes the ball. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

Winning has become a tradition for Mattituck, which had not lost more than twice in each of its previous two seasons, is 52-9 since 2017 and 8-1 this season following a three-set win over Greenport/Southold Tuesday.

Those nice numbers aside, Massa described this season as something of a roller-coaster ride for his side. Setter Ashley Young is the only remaining starter playing the same position from the 2019 team (the 2020 season was postponed to this March and April because of the pandemic). That team went 15-2 and reached the Suffolk County Class C final. All the other Tuckers are playing positions for the first time at the varsity level “so there’s growing pains with it,” Massa said. “Sometimes we look like we’re a very good team, and sometimes we don’t.”

The Tuckers had to take the good with the bad in Tuesday’s Suffolk League VI match at Greenport High School. It was good enough for their second three-set win over Greenport this season, 25-21, 25-23, 25-15.

On the positive side, Sage Foster (12 kills, three service aces, three assists) and Ryan (six kills) took impressive swings at the ball, and Mattituck limited itself to three service errors. Emma McGunnigle and Lilly Fogarty added eight assists each.

Some of the hardest-hit balls were struck by Foster, who acknowledged that those hits bring her joy, “but I keep it bottled inside so I don’t seem too showy.”

Sage Foster spikes a ball over the net. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

Massa said Foster is averaging about 14 kills a match, Ryan about eight kills “and today wasn’t that type of day. We didn’t get the balls to our big hitters as often as we would have liked.”

Back-to-back aces by Foster gave Mattituck a 19-10 lead in the first set, but things got trickier after that as Greenport’s jump-serving Courtney Cocheo recorded a pair of aces, Lily Corwin put away a couple of kills and two Hannah Santacroce aces down the stretch cut that lead to 24-21. Ultimately, a net violation decided the set.

Greenport (0-4, 0-4) did well to hang with Mattituck in Set 2 and held a 22-20 lead before Foster crushed successive kills to put the Tuckers ahead. An ace and then a kill by Fogarty helped close that set out.

Asked if the Porters have improved, Massa answered: “Without a doubt. They’re always scrappy. They were scrappier today more than usual. They don’t let a ball hit the ground and they turned a lot of our good hits into points for them.”

But self-inflicted damage hurt Greenport in the form of 12 service errors and seven double-contact calls.

“To me a serve is like a layup,” Greenport coach Mike Gunther said. “You shouldn’t miss a layup, you shouldn’t miss a serve — until you’re going for something a little more difficult.”

Like a jump serve. Cocheo was remarkably consistent with hers, going a perfect 15-for-15 from the service line.

Gunther said he told Cocheo when to go for jump serves last season. “This time I didn’t tell her, and I was very pleased to see her decide to do it,” he said. “That showed me confidence and aggression and leadership, and I like that.”

Cocheo, who captains the Porters along with Gabriela Contreras and Julia Jaklevic, said, “We have a lot of young girls, so it was hard at first to get the groove of things, putting the chemistry together, but I feel like we’re really improving since our first game.”

Greenport didn’t play four matches because a team member’s positive COVID-19 test forced the squad to quarantine for 10 days, said Gunther.

He said, “What the season has really been like is surreal.”