Pierson/Bridgehampton girls volleyball head coach Donna Fischer has been a bit uncustomary with her team this season.
She’s hired a tai chi teacher to come in and help the players with their focus and breathing. She’s elicited the help of her high school head coach and mentor, Kathy McGeehan—the longtime East Hampton coach—to come in and give some pointers and a fresh perspective. And on the eve of the team winning its first ever Suffolk County Class C Championship on November 7 over Stony Brook, Fischer held a dance party and team dinner at her home.
So far, it’s worked, and Fischer will need to keep the unorthodox ideas coming.
The Lady Whalers, just four days after winning the county title, defeated East Rockaway, 3-1, on Saturday to grab their first ever Long Island Class C Championship at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood. With the win, Pierson punched its ticket to the New York State Championships, which will be played at Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls this weekend on November 18 and 19.
Fischer noted it’s been a tiring, yet successful, past week for herself and the Lady Whalers. “It’s been so amazing,” she said. “This group, they’re such fighters.”
Senior captain Leigh Hatfield agreed.
“It felt incredible,” she said of Saturday’s victory. “I was so proud of all my teammates because I knew we worked so hard to get to this point.”
Things didn’t exactly get off on the right foot on Saturday. Pierson lost the first set, 25-23, to East Rockaway, but rebounded with 25-21 and 26-24 victories in the following sets, before going on to win the fourth set, 25-13.
The Lady Whalers typically play their matches in the late afternoon or early evening, so getting up for a Saturday morning match added some jitters for them, Fischer said. Once they got into the match they were ready, said Hatfield, who led the offense with 12 kills.
Junior Hannah Tuma had six kills and two blocks, junior Celia Barranco had four kills and two blocks, and freshman Gylia Dryden recorded three blocks and a pair of kills. Sophomore Samantha Cox had six aces, four kills and two blocks, eighth-grader Sofia Mancino had 23 assists and three aces, and sophomore Olivia Cassone had 17 digs.
As Fischer noted, the Lady Whalers will need to get ready for early-morning matches. The opening ceremony on Saturday in Glens Falls is slated for 7:45 a.m., then Pierson will play Portville (Section VI-Western New York) at 9:30 a.m., with matches against Voorheesville (Section II-Capital District) and Millbrook (Section I-Dutchess, Putnam, Rockland, Westchester) to follow. Each match on Saturday will go two sets to 25 points, with the top two teams from pool play advancing to the finals on Sunday at noon.
Pierson Upsets Stony Brook
A year ago in the Suffolk County Championship game, Pierson 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.
Last week, on the same exact court, against the same team and in a similar situation, the Lady Whalers flipped the script and defeated Stony Brook, 3-1, to win their first 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.
“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],” said Pierson sophomore Samantha Cox, who led her team with nine kills. “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.
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.
Leigh Hatfield, who finished with six kills, said after the Whalers’ semifinal victory over Mercy on November 1 that Stony Brook has a boisterous crowd that can throw off opposing teams, but that she and her teammates did their best to tune it out.
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.”