As the late, great Yogi Berra once said, “It’s deja vu all over again.”
For the third consecutive season, the Westhampton Beach girls volleyball team lost, 3-0, to Kings Park in the Suffolk County Class A Championship at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood on Thursday, November 10.
It was the sixth consecutive county title for Kings Park, and on Saturday, the Lady Kingsmen also won their sixth consecutive Long Island Championship, in a 3-0 victory over Floral Park. While county and Long Island titles have seemed to come easy for Kings Park, a state title hasn’t, as it has been five years since the Lady Kingsmen last ruled New York State. They’ll be looking to change that this weekend at the state tournament in Glens Falls.
As for the Lady Hurricanes, last week’s loss in the county final was an all too familiar scene. After playing a dominating regular season, in which they went 14-0 to win the League VI title, the Lady Canes made fairly easy work of their first two playoff opponents, Harborfields and Eastport South Manor. Westhampton Beach played arguably its best match of the season against the Lady Sharks, and although undefeated Kings Park has trampled through its opponents this season, it lost its only set to Westhampton Beach in a non-league match earlier this season. The Lady Canes also held an 18-12 lead in the first set of that match only to lose it, so Westhampton Beach was confident coming in to last week’s county final.
But as great teams do, Kings Park put a quick damper on that confidence last week, rattling off five consecutive points to take a 6-1 lead in the first set, en route to a 25-10, 25-15, 25-13 victory. Westhampton Beach’s strength all season long—a strong serve-receive game—wound up being the Achilles heel in the loss. Westhampton Beach head coach Lenny Zaloga said that the few times his players were able to pass the ball they were able to score a point.
“We were fairly confident going in since we played them so tough in the beginning of the year. I didn’t think we were intimidated,” he said on Friday. “It’s the third year in a row our passing has let us down. We had played such a great match against Eastport, where our serve/receive was so good, but maybe Eastport didn’t serve as well as Kings Park?
“Lauren Kloos (14 kills) was just unstoppable,” he added of the Kings Park senior. “She played out of her mind yesterday.”
Zaloga mentioned that playing in such a large space, such as Suffolk in Brentwood, is much different than what his team is used to. Most high schools have tight quarters, where balls easily hit the ceilings of gyms, and with the end lines close to the walls or bleachers. At Suffolk in Brentwood, the extra room allows players to get to balls they don’t typically have a chance at.
But Zaloga was quick to point out that Kings Park has to deal with the same changes.
“It’s the third year we’ve played them there. I was hoping that was out the window and not a factor anymore,” he said.
With the close of another season comes the reality of more seniors graduating. There are four Lady Canes expected to graduate, in Camryn Bancroft, Sarena Choi, Brittany Palladino and Kayleigh Walker. All four players contributed to the team’s success this season. Bancroft and Choi were arguably the team’s most potent offensive weapons, while Palladino was a key defensive specialist and server in her time on the team, and as Zaloga mentioned, was the only player on the entire team to ever appear in a national tournament through her travel team during the offseason. And while Walker didn’t get regular playing time, Zaloga explained that the team looked to her for leadership.
“They wanted to follow her lead. That’s a tremendous compliment,” he said.
“They’re all going to be missed,” Zaloga continued. “We have some kids coming up who hopefully they can step up into those roles. I think this team is built to be a county contender every year. I don’t think that’s unreasonable. We’re losing a front-row middle, an outside hitter and a back-row player, so we have four people returning that play all the time. We’re going to be good next year.”
Zaloga wouldn’t necessarily call the third consecutive loss to Kings Park frustrating. After all, his team went 18-2 overall this season, with the two losses coming to the Long Island Champions.
“We just didn’t beat them. They’re six-time county champions. We outplayed 18 other teams this year, one team outplayed us,” Zaloga explained. “But Kings Park is a great team. They proved over the year they’re a great team. We’re just second best.
“We won our share of matches, more importantly, we’ve enjoyed the season,” he continued. “Every time in practice, everyone was glad to be at practice. Every time we were out as a team, they were happy to be out as a team. There was such great camaraderie and enjoyment with these girls; when the girls cried at the end, I hope they were crying because we didn’t have practice the next day. I certainly hope it wasn’t because they were disappointed that they lost. It wasn’t a disappointment for me.”