The Eastport South Manor boys volleyball team took a tough loss in the Long Island Championship last year, losing to Bellmore JFK in five sets, the final game being decided by only three points. While many players have since graduated from last year’s senior-laden team, the goal for the young Sharks hasn’t wavered: Return to the Long Island Championship but this time take it all.
“This is a young team so I wasn’t quite sure what our goals were going to be,” ESM head coach Bruce Stiriz said. “But when I asked the guys in our first practice what our goal was going to be, they said they wanted to get back to that Long Island Championship, win it and get back to states.”
The Sharks are only two years removed from back-to-back appearances in the state tournament, and if they plan on reaching states again, they will have to vie with some of the top programs in Suffolk County, at least during the regular season. It was decided in the offseason that boys volleyball would go back to the one-division format it had a few years back. Previously, there had been three leagues, the third league covering all of the Class B or small schools, such as ESM.
So now, the Sharks will have regularly-scheduled matches against teams such as Half Hollow Hills, Ward Melville, Lindenhurst and Northport. But only the top four teams in Class B—which includes Center Moriches, East Hampton, Huntington, Sayville, Shoreham/Wading River and Westhampton Beach— will advance to the playoffs.
With Connor Brandow, Tom Jordan, Corey Vogt, Brandon Calderone, John Tuttle, Alex Johnson and Joe Piche all having graduated last season, Stiriz thought many in Suffolk County would consider his team to be in rebuilding mode. But many coaches in the county thought otherwise. The Sharks were preranked as the top small school in the county, and seventh in the entire county, meaning they’ll have to play the top teams.
“Our record may not indicate how good we really are,” Stiriz said. “But we really want to do well in what we call the second season, or the playoffs, against the other small schools. That’s where we really want to do well.”
ESM will have three key players captaining the team this season. That includes senior John Suarez, who had his breakout game in the Long Island Championship loss last season, senior Eric Ferrante and junior Tyler Brandow. Suarez and Brandow should be big hitters for the Sharks this season, while Ferrante will be the team’s starting setter after playing behind last year’s starter Tom Jordan. Senior hitter Kevin Reilly is the only other returning player from last year’s team.
Stiriz said that five juniors are going to be key to the team’s success this season and possibly beyond. In addition to Brandow, hitters Brian Mundell and Brian Blekas, along with all-around specialist Vinny Chierchie and libero Delaney Vogt, are all playing key roles up on varsity this season. Four sophomores—John Porcelli, Josh Undari, Kyle Allen Morabito and Alex Pushnick—will all be trying to crack the lineup.
“I think some teams are going to be surprised,” Stiriz said. “The opportunity for improvement is tremendous. It’s not like previous years where we had all of these seniors and everyone had a position already and we were running plays by end of the first night of practice. Over the next few weeks we’ll try and piece things together and see how much more can we improve. The consistency isn’t there yet with this group, but the possibly of improvement is off the charts.”
The Hurricanes will be trying hard to improve upon their 2-7 record from a year ago, but a handful of players have graduated from last season’s team.
Andrew Choi, Bobby Rice, Jake Lorefice, Nick Monaco and Pat Erwin have all graduated along with arguably the team’s best players in Chris Pesce and Rob Nidzyn. Trying to fill their shoes will be seniors Brian Schwartz, Chris Peraino, Wyatt Richter and R.J. Holman, junior Matheus Silverio and sophomore Collin Carreri.
“Chris and Rob are big shoes to fill,” Westhampton Beach head coach Jackie Reed said in an email last week. “We are trying, as the underclassmen are working hard in practice to improve the personnel around them.”
Due to budget cuts, the Hurricanes junior varsity program was slashed, so Reed is carrying a bigger squad this season with a number of underclassmen. Since the team is young, Reed is keeping her expectations somewhat low to start the season, but does expect her squad to be a scholar-athlete team.
“Our team goals are to get better each day with the little things,” she said. “We have been working hard on our fundamentals and getting back to the basic core movements. As always, our expectation and goal is to make it to the playoffs, but more importantly, as a coach, it is about teaching these boys the value of hard work, communication and being good role models to the younger kids that are in our program.”