The Westhampton Beach girls volleyball team learned just how dominating Kings Park can be. Unfortunately, it happened at the most inopportune time—the Suffolk County Class A Championship at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood on November 5.
The top-seeded Lady Kingsmen made fairly quick work of the second-seeded Lady Hurricanes in a 3-0 victory. It was the fourth consecutive county title and 66th straight victory over fellow Long Island schools for Kings Park, which wound up winning the Long Island Championship over South Side on Sunday, continuing that streak and advancing to the New York State Championships this weekend.
While the strong play of Kings Park was not surprising to Westhampton Beach head coach Lenny Zaloga, the poor play of his team was. The Hurricanes had played so well heading into the county finals, having beaten strong teams in Eastport South Manor and Sayville in the playoffs, that Zaloga was not expecting his team to have one of its worst matches of the season.
“I’m just so surprised,” he said. “The whole season we had been so consistent, either when we were winning or playing from behind—we had never played so poorly. Kings Park was undefeated, but it wasn’t like they came in bombing jump serves on us. They were as easy a serving team as we’ve seen all year.
“I felt bad for [our] kids, because it was the biggest match of the season, and they just didn’t play well,” Zaloga continued. “We’re so much better than that. We made it to the county finals, though, where a bunch of other teams wish they were.”
Kings Park won the first two games, 25-14, 25-7, and the lopsided losses seemed to kick Westhampton Beach into gear for the third game. An ace by seventh-grader Isabelle Smith gave the Lady Canes a lead at 9-8. Halfway through the game, though, Kings Park blocked two balls and added a kill to take a 16-13 lead.
The Lady Kingsmen built a lead until they needed only one point to win the match, at 24-16, but the Lady Canes went on their strongest run of the night, a 7-0 stretch, to pull within a point, 24-23. However, after a timeout by Kings Park, a serving error ended the match, and the season, for Westhampton Beach.
“It seemed like we started to play a little bit better in that third set, but it still wasn’t our best,” Zaloga said. “As we’ve said all season long, you don’t have to play your best to win, you just have to play well enough to win. You don’t have to win the point—win the serve/receive and play it out.”
The team’s lack of offense was visible in the stats. Sarah Culver and Sarena Choi had been averaging close to 25 kills the past few games, but Culver only had 11 kills, while Choi had four. The Lady Canes only recorded 18 digs the entire match. Lauren Lorefice finished with 10 assists, and Arianna Brierton had 15 digs.
Culver, Lorefice and Katy Parry wound up playing their final matches for Westhampton Beach last week. While Lorefice and Parry definitely had their roles on the team, Culver was a five-year varsity player and will be sorely missed. Her ability to play both offense and defense will make it tough for her to replace, Zaloga said.
Culver is expected to play lacrosse at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia, but she’ll try out for the nationally ranked volleyball team there as well.
“Players like her don’t come around all the time,” Zaloga said of Culver. “It will probably take two kids to replace her, just because of how good she was on offense and defense.”
Zaloga is confident that his team will be rebound and make another playoff run next season. Choi will be returning, along with Shea Casey and Maddie Neuberger. Sunny Foglia missed all of this season due to an injury, and Camryn Bancroft played sparingly in the second half of the season due to injury; both potentially could be starters next year. And Zaloga said he also liked the improvements made by Isabella Smith and Shannon Hewlett throughout the season.
“We have a lot of juniors playing together again in the offseason so that helps a lot,” the coach said said. “We’ll be pretty good.”