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Girls Volleyball: Tuckers seek second county title in same year

The players on the Mattituck High School girls volleyball team would love nothing better than to make a potentially confusing addition to the championship banner in their gym.

To have two county championships listed for 2021 might at some point in the future lead some to wonder if there had been a mistake. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 fall season was pushed back to this past spring. Mattituck emerged as the Suffolk County Class C champion. It was the Tuckers’ ninth county title overall and eighth in 19 years.

Now, the Tuckers find themselves facing the unusual possibility during this regular fall season of winning two county titles in the same calendar year.

Pretty neat, huh?

“That would be amazing,” said Sage Foster, Mattituck’s hard-swinging outside hitter.

Of course, coaches can’t afford to think that way in the middle of the regular season.

“We got a long way for that,” Mattituck’s Frank Massa said. “We got a lo-o-ong way for that. That’s a nice thought and everything like that, but there’s way too much volleyball left to consider that.”

In the meantime, consider the Tuckers. They are off to a good start record-wise. Their four-set, non-league win at Shoreham-Wading River High School Monday made them 5-2 (they are 4-1 in League VI).

The 26-24, 25-20, 21-25, 25-15 Mattituck win was choppy, with some good and not-so-good shown by both sides.

Mattituck setter Emma McGunnigle provided the Tuckers with 25 assists. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

For Mattituck, the good, as is often the case, started with Foster. The junior had only three kills in the first set as Mattituck’s hitting game got off to a slow start, but she broke out with 10 kills in the second set and finished with 20.

Foster, who was seen grimacing after one hit and had ice on her aching right shoulder afterward, said: “Mr. Massa was like, ‘Just because this is a non-league game, you still have to like play it like it’s a county [championship match]. So, yeah, that’s what I did.”

During one stretch in the second set, Foster put away five straight kills and had six kills as part of an 8-0 run that gave Mattituck an 18-10 lead.

Back-to-back kills by Shoreham’s Kelsey Hughes and Teresa Adams, followed by two Mattituck hitting errors, pulled the Wildcats to within 24-20 before a back-row hit by Foster won the set.

“Some of the kills that she had today, I have to give a lot of credit to her, but I also got to give a lot of credit to the setter putting balls up for her in really good shape,” Massa said. “Those swings don’t happen if the balls are not put in a good spot.”

Foster credited setters Emma McGunnigle (25 assists), Lilly Fogarty (eight assists) and Jamie Swartz for their efforts. Bridget Ryan brought Mattituck 11 kills, three service aces and two assists.

Hughes, who can play the middle and outside positions, knows full well what Foster can do. The two played together for the Long Island Fury travel team. Hughes has a wicked swing herself, and led Shoreham (3-4, 2-2 League V) with seven kills. Paige Alessi added six kills and Kamryn Osik supplied 21 assists.

Shoreham had squandered a 24-21 lead in the first set with a mix of service, hitting and passing errors, but made up for it in the third, scoring seven of the first eight points. Mattituck twice pulled to within one point late in the set before Shoreham closed it out with a Morgan Truesdell kill and a Crystal Meier ace.

Aces by Mattituck’s Julia Salvador and Fogarty, sandwiched around kills by Foster and McGunnigle, wrapped up the clinching fourth set. That set featured the defensive play of the match, a tremendous get by the hustling Cassidy Czujko, who raced toward the stands by center court to save a ball for a Mattituck point.

It may be too early for Mattituck to talk about another county title, but it’s good motivation, though.

“It absolutely is,” Massa said. “Everybody wants to try to get to the top.”

SWR COACH’S FINAL SEASON

Megan Johnson announced this is her final season as Shoreham’s coach. Johnson, who took charge in 2014, will step down after this season because of family obligations.

Noting that she is expecting a third child and her oldest son will enter kindergarten next year, she said: “It hit me and then I realized there was really no choice to make. That’s important for me to be home. It was bittersweet, though — I love this. I really do. I put a lot of heart and soul into this program and I love it here. I love my athletic director [Mark Passamonte], I love the girls, so it’s really hard to walk away.”

“I’m going to miss it so much,” she continued. “I’m going to cry a lot, but I mean, I don’t live far [away], so I already told the girls I’ll bring the kids, we’ll come to games. I’m definitely going to try to be a part of this as much as I can, but I’m definitely sad that this chapter of my life is ending.”

Frank Massa said Johnson has “always been one of the better coaches that we’ve played against. She is very organized. She has a love for the game and you could see it in the way she coaches. I’m sure the girls appreciate everything that she’s given — You can tell they love her.”

Johnson exhibited sportsmanship during the match when she told an official that a Mattituck hit was tipped by one of her players before it flew out of bounds, so the point should go to the Tuckers, and it did.