The shirts that the Mattituck High School girls volleyball players wear during warmups are unorthodox. They are T-shirts with the words “Cool Cats & Kittens” emblazoned on them along with renderings of various types of cats, big and small.
The shirts caught the eyes of the Tuckers while shopping together after going out to dinner one evening. They became a symbol of unity.
Now there is little question that the Tuckers are among the coolest cats in the county. With big performances from their Big Three of Sage Foster, Ashley Young and Bridget Ryan, the top-seeded Tuckers rolled to the Suffolk County Class C championship Saturday with a 25-13, 25-18, 25-21 defeat of Babylon at Mattituck High School. It’s Mattituck’s ninth county title overall and eighth in 19 years.
Typically, county finals are played at a neutral site, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, that hasn’t been the case this year. So, the Tuckers (14-1) were able to close out their season with their seventh straight win and celebrate this latest title in front of their home fans.
“Best way of ending a COVID volleyball season,” Foster said. “It was a good ending.”
Foster was tremendous. The sophomore outside hitter, one of Suffolk’s finest young talents, looked locked in, blasting down 25 kills to go with three service aces. Asked how she felt on the court, Foster answered, “Amazing.”
Young, the setter who supplied her side with 35 assists, used the same word in describing Foster’s play.
“Oh, she’s just amazing,” Young said. “Those spikes, they go straight down. It’s just amazing.”
Mattituck coach Frank Massa added, “Even her mishits were fun to watch.”
Meanwhile, Ryan did her part, turning in eight kills, going 16-for-16 from the service line and playing good defense, a Mattituck trademark.
“Those were the three [players] that I needed to play as they had played throughout the year, and I knew that if the three of them, that combination of those three, was running well, that we would be fine,” said Massa.
Karlyn Antolini had six kills, three blocks and two assists for Babylon (8-6).
Massa, in his 35th year as Mattituck’s coach, said he was as excited and nervous as ever about the Tuckers’ first county final on their home court. He wore a shirt from the 2008 county champion Mattituck team for good luck.
League VI champion Mattituck had beaten Babylon twice during the regular season — both three-set affairs like Saturday — but that didn’t mean Mattituck took the Panthers lightly.
Said Massa: “We played against a Babylon team that I told my girls, ‘They are not going to go away. They’re not going to give up,’ and they didn’t. They fought every ball from the beginning to the end.”
Babylon shot out to leads of 4-0, 3-0 and 5-0 in the three sets before Mattituck came back each time. The third set was the trickiest for Mattituck, which trailed at 16-15 and held a 22-21 edge before wrapping things up. After a Babylon hit went into the net for the match point, the Tuckers joined each other in a happy, group hug on the court. Mattituck athletic director Gregg Wormuth presented the championship plaque to captains Sam McNamara and Young.
“I think we really brought it up today because we did amazing,” said Young, the only returning starter from the 2019 team still playing the same position.
Mattituck, which made its 18th straight appearance in the playoffs (the 2020 season was pushed back from the fall to this spring because of the pandemic), has a remarkable 58-9 record in matches dating back to 2017.
“That’s insane,” Ryan said when a reporter informed her of that record.
Massa himself was pleased to hear those numbers, saying, “I like that.”
Mattituck will lose seven seniors for the regular fall season, which starts in September: Emily Chew, Renee Depinto, Lilly Fogarty, Emma Olsen, Rylie Rittberg, McNamara and Young.
“I felt overjoyed,” McNamara said afterward. “I was just happy that we could even have a season. I’m so happy with how far we could go, and just how we all came together as a team © It was the best season that I could ask for.”
Cool stuff for these cool cats.