The goals for the Riverhead girls volleyball team start off small at the beginning of the season. From game to game, match to match, the Blue Waves are focused on improving their communication and serve receive.
The long-term goal still looms in the background: a return trip to the playoffs.
“We would love to get back to the playoffs again,” said second-year coach Amy Bullock. “Who doesn’t want to?”
Riverhead missed out on the playoffs last year, finishing 2-10 in league after making it into the postseason the previous year.
The Blue Waves return with a strong nucleus this season that includes four starters from last year who have all been playing together for three years now.
“The chemistry is coming together,” Bullock said.
The biggest issue for the Blue Waves last year centered around their serve receive. Bullock said she’s seen a noticeable improvement in that area so far this season, which allows the team to set up hits and generate offense.
A strong serve receive allows the Blue Waves to get the ball into the hands of their setter, Sara Tucci, who can set up the hitters to finish the play.
“They just have to believe in each other,” Bullock said. “The end product we’re looking for is a hit. If we’re able to dig the ball, get the ball up, we’re able to produce and hit.”
The Blue Waves return Allison Fox as a back-row hitter along with Danielle Thomas and Hali Marten as outside hitters.
Bullock said those three hitters and Tucci make up the core of the team that have been together for several years.
“They keep the tempo up within the game,” she said.
A big key to the defense is the play of sophomore libero Joscelin Morrow. Bullock said Morrow has played club ball for most of her life and has helped solidify the team.
“It has completely changed our game so far,” she said.
The only seniors on the team are middle hitter Megan Conroy, outside hitter Amber Brewer and libero Rebecca Lessard.
Megan Brewer returns as a middle hitter along with Rachel Clement.
Riverhead opened the season with a non-league loss at Rocky Point before defeating Shelter Island Monday, 3-0. The Blue Waves opened up league play Tuesday with a 3-0 loss at Bellport, a team that advanced to the quarterfinals of the Class A playoffs last year.
Last season was a year to remember for Shoreham-Wading River. The Wildcats, led by a core of eight seniors who came up through the program together, advanced into the playoffs for the first time under coach Katherine Winkler.
While this year’s team is mostly inexperienced, Winkler said she’s been awed by the heart the players have shown so far.
“Although they might not have the talent level of last year, they have a lot of heart, determination and drive,” she said.
Winkler pointed to a match against Babylon Monday as an example. In two games the Wildcats fell behind by double digits, only to rally back and tie it. They won the third game before ultimately dropping the match, 3-1.
But Winkler was thrilled at the perseverance the team displayed.
“These girls don’t quit,” she said.
The Wildcats will start a pair of freshmen in the middle with Hailey Weher and Christina Iannacchino.
Junior Kelly Dillon is a returning varsity player who played mostly in the middle last year. She’ll slide over to the outside this season.
Senior Christine Joseph returns as well at libero for her third season on varsity. Senior AnneMarie Taggart returns to play outside hitter along with senior Bobbie Ferentinos. Junior Toryn Cairo is a first-time varsity player who will play on the outside.
The Wildcats also benefited from a transfer student joining the team. Senior Sabrina Santiago, who was from Chicago, moved to the area over the summer.
“I’m really working on fundamentals with them right now,” Winkler said. “They have a lot of raw talent. It’s a lot of tweaking with them right now and I think in one, two years they’re going to be pretty good.”
The Wildcats are playing in League VII this season, swapping spots with Mount Sinai.