Pierson/Bridgehampton girls volleyball head coach Donna Fischer used a few words to describe her team’s first ever trip to the New York State Championships this past weekend at Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls. “Amazing,” and “exciting” were among them. But she didn’t shy away from describing the rigors of the state tournament as well.
“It was a bit overwhelming, to say the least,” Fischer said.
The size of the arena and how loud it was, she said, was much different than anything her team had experienced. There were also multiple courts, with the Class AA matches on the left, Class A matches on the right, and the Class C matches—which the Lady Whalers played in—smack dab in the middle. The pool play format was also a little different for Pierson, Fischer said.
“It was just game after game after game,” she said. “It was more of like a fast tournament.”
The Lady Whalers went 1-5 in pool play on Saturday, failing to advance to the New York State Class C Championship. Four teams made the state tournament, but each team played each other once in two sets. The two teams with the best record advanced to Sunday’s finals. Portville (Section VI-Western New York) went 6-0 while Millbrook (Section IX-Orange, Sullivan, Ulster) went 4-2 to advance to the finals. Portville won the Class C title, 3-1, over Millbrook.
Pierson played Portville in its first match of pool play on Saturday morning and, although it started well behind strong serving from eighth-grader Sofia Mancino, the Lady Whalers dropped both sets. They played a little bit better against Millbrook but again dropped both sets. They finally broke through with a 25-21 victory in the first set over Voorheesville (Section II-Capital District), but the two teams wound up splitting the sets, with the Lady Blackbirds winning the second, 25-18. Both Pierson and Voorheesville tied for third place since they finish with identical 1-5 records, but Fischer thought she had the better team.
“If we weren’t so overwhelmed I think we could have won both sets,” she said. “Next year, it’ll be different, if we’re there, for sure.”
Pierson junior Aziza El tweaked her ankle in practice two days leading up to the state tournament. That wound up having a bit of an effect on the Lady Whalers’ play as well, Fischer said, as El couldn’t really jump, which is needed for her middle blocker position.
All in all, though, it was a great experience, Fischer said. To prepare for a tournament of that magnitude, Fischer will look into entering her team in more tournaments during the regular season and the offseason as well.
Leigh Hatfield is the only senior graduating from the program, and while she’s the only loss for the Suffolk County and Long Island champs, the captain will be sorely missed, Fischer said.
“She has grown immensely. I could not be more proud of the progress she has made,” she said. “I’ve had her for the past six years. Over the past two years she’s really come to every clinic, every camp, everything I offered. She’s improved so, so much. I think giving her the role of head captain this year made her step up her leadership role. She was just a very, very confident leader and she kept the girls grounded.”
Fischer added that she’s sad to go into the offseason, simply because she won’t be around her team every day.
“This particular group of girls, they’re a team, but they’re also like family,” she explained. “They were a pleasure to coach and be around, on and off the court. I was proud of their behavior, they were respectable, smart good girls.
“I love them and I can’t wait to get them back,” Fischer added.