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Girls Volleyball: Wild comeback caps Tuckers’ 10th county title

“Brush it off.”

That’s the saying the Mattituck girls volleyball team uses when it makes a mistake or hits a rough patch.

“If you’re in like a bad mood because you made like a bad play, it just like kind of like lifts your spirits,” said Mattituck’s Sage Foster.

Well, Mattituck brushed off about as rough a start a team can have to a set, somehow found a way to win that third set and the Suffolk County Class C championship in the process.

It was a monumental comeback. After falling behind to Port Jefferson, 16-4, in the set, Mattituck managed to close things out with a virtually unheard of 21-5 run for a 25-21 clincher to a three-set victory in the county final at Hauppauge High School Wednesday night. Mattituck had taken the first two sets by identical 25-22 scores, but the way the Tuckers finished the match is legendary.

Asked how his team did that, Mattituck coach Frank Massa said, “I have no idea.”

Massa said it was the first time in his 35 years coaching the team that he had seen the Tuckers overcome a deficit such as that to win a set.

“That shows resiliency,” he said. “I mean, they could have tanked, you know. They could have said, ‘All right, we’ll go on and wait for the fourth set.’ Like, we came back and ended it right there. That was epic as far as I’m concerned.”

An amazing finish to about as exciting a three-set match as one could ask for. It brought top-seeded Mattituck (12-1) its ninth county title in 19 years, 10th overall and second in the same calendar year.

Sage Foster (15 kills) follows through on a hit while Bridget Ryan watches. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

Port Jefferson (13-3) rode some hot serving from Olivia Sherman as it shot off a 13-1 run, capped by Alexa Ayotte’s kill for a stunning 16-4 lead in the third set. Ayotte had five kills to go with 11 assists and a block.

What was Mattituck’s Abby Woods thinking at the time?

“Not so positive thoughts,” she said.

Then momentum shifted. For the first half of the set it seemed like Mattituck could do nothing right. Then, it seemed as if it did little wrong.

Mattituck didn’t fold, gradually whittling away at that deficit, first cutting it in half and then getting closer and closer until one of Port Jefferson’s 29 hitting errors evened the score at 20-20.

The Class C county champions. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

“We used our minds, like we were tipping, we were finding the spots that were open to tip the ball,” said Foster.

Foster’s 15th kill of the match put Mattituck ahead. Four touches by Port Jefferson and a Mattituck hitting error left the Tuckers with a 22-21 edge. But Port Jefferson followed that up with a service error and two hitting errors to end it.

“We just had to get out of our heads,” said Mattituck’s Lilly Fogarty (13 assists). “We had to know that what our best is is the best in the league and we had to ride that the way, like we had to pick each other up and get our passes, sets so our hitters could hit the ball.”

Libero Jolin Chen serves the ball. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

The teams are League VI co-champions, having beat each other in three sets on their home courts during the regular season.

Mattituck went with a starting lineup of libero Jolin Chen, setters Emma McGunnigle (12 assists) and Fogarty, outside hitters Bridget Ryan and Foster and middle hitters Sofia Knudsen and Woods.

The first set was a tight back-and-forth affair with nine lead changes. Neither team led by more than three points before Foster drove a back-row hit off a blocker for a 23-20 advantage. Later, a service ace by Erin Henry cut the Mattituck lead to 24-22 before a service error ended the set.

Mattituck never trailed in the second set. Sophia Wennerod’s kill pulled Port Jefferson within 24-22, but that set ended when one of the Royals was called for a net violation.

After the match the joyous Tuckers embraced. Massa hugged assistant coach Kelly Pickering and then exchanged high fives with his players. Hauppauge athletic director Dan Butler presented Mattituck’s captains, Fogarty and Ryan, with the championship plaque.

“Winning feels good every time you win,” Fogarty said. “Mr. Massa is a really great coach and he’s built up this program so well and it’s just an honor to keep that legacy going.”

Massa did not yet know who Mattituck’s next opponent will be in the Long Island final Nov. 13 at LIU Post in Brookville. That was a thought for the next day. He was still trying to absorb what he just saw.

“They’re all memorable,” he said of the titles, “but that one right there, right now that takes the cake.”