So far, the season Eastport South Manor boys volleyball coach Bruce Stiriz dubbed as one of rebuilding has turned out pretty well.
After finishing the regular season sixth overall in the county and top among the Division II teams, ESM advanced to the Suffolk County Division II Championship with a three-set victory over East Hampton at home on November 4.
The Sharks are slated to face Sayville on November 7 at Westhampton Beach High School. Sayville swept Center Moriches 3-0 in the other semifinal.
“We played great the whole season and we really stepped it up toward the end,” ESM junior Tyler Brandow said. “The beginning was a little rough but we had our run toward the end.”
During each of the three sets between the Sharks and Bonackers, for the first half of each game, the teams played within a point or two of one another and then ESM managed to roll off long spans of unanswered points to pull away with decisive victories.
Both coaches pinned it on youth.
“For some reason in the beginning of all three games we were playing tight, we were making errors we don’t usually make,” Stiriz said. “I have a very young team and these guys have learned a lot this season but tonight we were tight so I just told them to play the game we love.
He continued, “For a lot of the guys, it’s the first time they are in the playoffs and it’s like ‘Oh my gosh, if we lose, we’re done.’ By middle of each game they settled in but it is a little concerning. Hopefully, we won’t have that same problem in the county championship.”
For East Hampton, the phenomenon was the opposite. The team played confident and smooth for the first half of each of the three games and then once ESM managed to swing the momentum its way, there was no recovering.
“In the first game, they just freaked out on the jump serve; Brandow has a great jump serve and they just didn’t know how to react,” East Hampton head coach Joshua Brussell said. “The next two games, they just didn’t react well to setbacks. They couldn’t recover, which is a problem we have had throughout the season.”
In game one, up until the score of 13-13 the teams were not separated by any more than two points. But then Shark Tyler Brandow stepped to the service line with a dominant jump serve and threw off the East Hampton serve-receive and the home team pulled out to a 24-13 advantage. After finally earning a side out, East Hampton lost the next point for a 25-14 loss.
In game two, it was a back-and-forth game until the score was locked at 12-12 and then ESM went on a 13-1 run to win 25-13. Game three was no different, with the breaking point coming at 11-11 and ESM cruising to a 25-15 win to seal the match.
East Hampton finished the season 3-11 in league play and 4-13 overall. While their record wasn’t impressive on paper, coach Brussell said the future is nothing but positive for his team, which will graduate just four seniors, two of which are starters.
“We did well this year,” he said. “We had a lot of setbacks this year with injuries but the guys played well and we have high hopes for next season.”