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Girls Volleyball: Santacroce serves up a winner for Porters

Bits and pieces of Hannah Santacroce may be found on volleyball courts throughout Suffolk County League VIII. That’s the way the Greenport/Southold setter plays in the team’s 5-1 system.

Santacroce isn’t shy about hitting the floor to get to a ball any way she can. Whatever it takes.

“She basically been the heart and soul of the team,” coach Mike Gunther said. “She leaves skin on every gym floor. She does not let it drop.”

Santacroce wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s the way the senior plays the game. All out. One-hundred percent hustle.

“She’s everywhere,” said teammate Lilly Corwin.

For Santacroce, that may be the most enjoyable aspect of the game.

“I think so,” she said. “I don’t know why, but I really love to hit the floor. It just brings the energy up on the team and stuff like that.”

Santacroce, who captains the Porters along with sophomore Sally Jordan, does whatever it takes — setting up teammates, supplying strong serving, getting an occasional kill, providing leadership.

She did all of the above Thursday at Smithtown Christian School. Greenport must have been happy to see Santacroce’s turn come up at the service line with the score tied, 22-22, in the third set. To prevent Smithtown Christian from finding a way to force a fourth set, Santacroce ran off three straight service aces to end it, 25-13, 25-21, 25-22.

Match over.

What was Santacroce (pronounced san-ta-CROW-chee) thinking when she stepped up to serve for those final points?

“I just take a minute, close my eyes and then I serve the ball, and it goes where it goes,” she said.

Santacroce finished with 18 assists, seven aces and three kills. Corwin was a major factor as well, turning in 14 digs, nine kills and five aces. They both went 12-for-13 serving.

Greenport (3-4, 3-4) — with Jessica Sousis, Jamie McCarthy, Olivia Nockelin and Jordan joining Corwin and Santacroce in the starting lineup — opened strong, going on an 11-3 run for a 15-7 lead in the first set. The last two sets, though, didn’t come as easily. The Porters had to work harder in those.

The second set was even at 17-17 on a Sousis kill. Greenport went ahead for good when the Knights (0-7, 0-7) committed a hitting error. Corwin later put away a ball to wrap up that set.

“She’s just a very powerful, natural athlete,” Gunther said of Corwin. “She has to harness that power and control it and she can. She’s done that.”

Set No. 3 started with Greenport in a 5-0 hole. Smithtown Christian, which had 10 assists from Maddie Castro, led for most of the set and by as many as six points. Greenport battled back to tie the score at 11-11 and then again at 21-21 and 22-22, right before Santacroce’s time came to serve up the win.

Greenport had 17 aces to Smithtown Christian’s six.

All of Greenport’s matches have been decided in three sets, including wins over Ross and Shelter Island. The Porters have lost to Port Jefferson, Mattituck, Pierson/Bridgehampton and Babylon.

In lieu of a libero, Greenport has gone to two defensive specialists, McCarthy and Aleyna Gungo, both varsity rookies. Gunther said the team has a “big block” with Nockelin and Ayania Smith in the middle.

Gunther had been Greenport’s longtime coach before retiring — and then unretiring. He returned for one more “one-and-done” season, he said.

Gunther said he is recovering from a bout with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “I am about 25 percent of what I was,” he said.

“They didn’t call it a remission,” he continued. “We have done all the tests. They haven’t seen any signs. I went through chemo immunotherapy for six months and now I just go for immunotherapy every three months.”

Assistant coach Jessica Capell serves as the “ball banger” during practices and prematch warmups. And Gunther’s wife, Carolyn, returns as the team statistician. “They won’t even let me bend over to pick up a ball,” he said.

Gunther has a couple of young grandsons and a home in Florida waiting for him, “so that’s on pause right now and I don’t mind. I love coming here and working with the kids. They’re a great group of girls and they have some talent. It’s just like I gotta pull it all out of them.”

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