Almost a year ago to the date, the Pierson/Bridgehampton girls volleyball team walked off the court at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood in tears and disbelief. It had just lost the Class C Championship, 3-2, to Stony Brook, after having led 2-0.
My how things change.
On Tuesday afternoon, on the same exact court, against the same team and in the same situation, the Lady Whalers flipped the script and defeated Stony Brook, 3-1, to win their first ever county championship in program history. It was a true upset victory—Stony Brook went undefeated in 10 League VIII matches this season, including two victories over Pierson by 3-0 scores. In fact, other than their two losses, which came against teams outside of Class C, the Lady Bears had only lost two sets all season.
Pierson will now play in the Long Island Class C Championship on Saturday at 11 a.m. back at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood. It will face the winner of Nassau County’s Class C Championship between East Rockaway and Carle Place.
“We were at the same exact gym, playing the same team, that’s why I think it meant five times more for us to win this game, because we lost [last year],” Pierson sophomore Samantha Cox, who led her team with nine kills, said after the victory. “Coming back [this year], we decided to flush out all of the nerves, we came in confident and we knew that we could do it.
“I feel like I’m on top of the world,” she added. “This has been my dream since day one of preaseason. I’m still in shock—I can’t believe we actually did it.”
It looked like Stony Brook was going to have its way with Pierson once again on Tuesday after winning the first set handily, 25-13. But the Lady Whalers responded in a big way in the second set, rattling off 13 straight points and eventually winning 25-11 to even the match at 1-1.
Pierson got back to work in the third, and after limiting a Stony Brook run midway through the set, it won 25-19. Cox found open space on the court for the clinching point. In the fourth set, Stony Brook made another run midway through, forcing Pierson head coach Donna Fischer to call a timeout at 13-12. But out of the break, the Lady Whalers went on a 12-1 run to close the match and secure the victory.
“They were a little nervous. They had to get their jitters out,” Fischer said of her players after the opening-set loss. “I told them, ‘Lets play like we’ve been practicing.’ These girls have been practicing so hard. We’ve been changing things up, really working on our defense. Front row has been working on swinging—swinging hard and hitting spots—and they did it. They were amazing.”
Cox said the team uses a term called “activate” when it gets itself in a bind, like it did after the first set. The team regroups, she explained, rebuilding its confidence and starting with a fresh slate, mentally.
“We knew they weren’t an easy team to beat,” Cox said of Stony Brook. “We knew we had to play our hardest, go for every single ball. We just had to forget everything that happened, start from 0-0, and just activate.”
The only senior on Pierson’s roster, Leigh Hatfield, who finished with six kills, said after last week’s semifinal victory that Stony Brook has a boisterous crowd that can throw off opposing teams, but that her and her teammates would do their best to tone it out. Even when a few students were added to Stony Brook’s side late in the match they didn’t phase the Lady Whalers, Hatfield said.
“It feels incredible,” she said of the victory. “I honestly feel like I never have before.”
Hannah Tuma, a junior, matched Hatfield with six kills. Sofia Mancino, an eighth grader who Fischer said has become a leader on the team this season, served nine aces and had 20 assists. Every championship always seems to have a reserve player come in and step up—that player was junior Sophie Borzilleri for Pierson, who served seven aces.
It was a completely balanced game for Pierson, which lost four seniors to graduation following that tough loss in last year’s county championship. Fischer said this year’s squad has a strong bond.
“This young group is so united,” she said. “They work so hard in practice. They’re respectful and they’re really coachable. They’re really just a great group of girls.”