A weaker minded group of players may have let back-to-back out of rotation calls late in the first game set a negative tone for the remainder of the match.
Not so for the members of the Eastport South Manor girls volleyball team.
Just moments after losing two points for being out of rotation—calls ESM coach Don Consorte argued but stood—the Lady Sharks faced a 24-22 hole in the opening set of the opening round of the Suffolk County Class A playoffs against rival Westhampton Beach on November 1.
But instead of backing down and conceding defeat, the Lady Sharks rolled off four unanswered points to win game one, 26-24. The win was the first in a 3-1 victory to advance the Lady Sharks to the semifinals against Kings Park. ESM was slated to face the top seeded Lady Kingsmen on the road on Monday night (see separate story).
“We became stronger as the season went on this year,” ESM’s Nikki Illuzzi said of her team’s tenacity. “We used to not be able to come back from things like that but now we fight through everything. We learn from our mistakes.”
Coach Consorte echoed his setter’s sentiments.
“They were very resilient,” he said. “Throughout the year, things like that broke our back. The kids came back, they held it together. We were down 24-22 and we held tough. They showed a lot of character.”
ESM edged Westhampton Beach, 25-22, in game two to move to within one set of victory. But Westhampton Beach wasn’t ready to go home yet and forced a fourth game with a 25-23 victory in game three, a game during which ESM made a handful of unforced errors down the stretch to key the Lady Canes victory.
But again, the Lady Sharks did not waver in the face of success by the opposition and came out firing in game four, rolling to a 20-15 victory to advance to the semifinals.
Lady Shark Morgan Johnson tallied 15 kills while Brittany Little had half a dozen kills with six blocks. Nikki Illuzzi racked up 27 assists to go with seven kills while Heather Watson had 24 digs.
And while consistent success and proximity of the schools have created a rivalry, coaches and players alike on both sides have respect for one another.
“It was an awesome match,” Westhampton Beach head coach Lenny Zaloga said. “They played well, we played well. It was four-five [seeding] so we knew it was going to be even. There are no surprises about what happened today.”
ESM coach Consorte said, “I thought he fought really well, his kids played really well. It was a good match.”
ESM earned the fifth seed with a 9-3 mark in League V, tied for second place with Islip. Kings Park went 12-0 for the league title. ESM played just two non-league matches, losing both, to finish 9-5 overall.
Westhampton Beach earned the fourth seed after finishing the League VI season with an 8-4 mark in League VI play in second place behind Sayville and East Hampton, which shared the league title with 11-1 records. Westhampton Beach went 12-4 overall, including a four-set victory over ESM.
When asked how he felt about the season in general, in spite of ending on a loss, coach Zaloga said it was “terrific”.
“We started off a little slow because we have so many sophomores but about the fourth or fifth match in we started playing consistently well,” he said. “I think the only match where we took a step back was the second Sayville match but overall, I think with every match, including this one, we played better and better.”