MONARCHS 3, BEARS 2 (22-25, 25-21, 25-20, 23-25, 26-24)
After four exhausting games, the match knotted at two, and the decisive fifth game hanging in the balance, McGann-Mercy senior Kaylee Navarra cradled the ball on the back line, waiting to deliver the all-important serve.
The Monarchs and Bears of The Stony Brook School had battled to this point by trading massive runs, each team seizing the momentum at times, only to have it slip away.
The Monarchs found themselves with their backs squarely against the wall as the serve came to Navarra and her team trailing 24-23, one point away from defeat in Game 5 at McGann-Mercy High School Thursday night.
In the first two years of her varsity career, Navarra likely would have never found herself in this position. But now? There’s no one Mercy coach Jamie Calandro would rather have with the ball.
“She’s been like the setter extraordinaire for four years, but inconsisent when it comes to serving, to the point where in her freshman and sophomore year, I’d sub her out,” Calandro said. “This year, we played a tournament at Bay Shore last Saturday and she showed quite a lot of consistency when it came to serving.”
Navarra’s first serve rocketed toward Kaera Vancol, who couldn’t control the ball as it deflected behind her and out of play. Tied game.
The next serve shot across the court toward the right line, nearly going out of bounds, before a Stony Brook player attempted to play it and couldn’t keep it in play. 25-24 Mercy.
With one point to go, Navarra dropped in another ace, clinching a 3-2 Monarchs victory as the players jumped together on the court in celebration.
“The past teams I coached lose that game,” Calandro said. “When you get down, they kind of run out of gas. But now I hold them to a high standard to make sure they play every point and play to the end.”
In a wild back-and-forth match, the Monarchs fell behind 7-0 in Game 5, the largest deficit they faced all night. But the Monarchs knew on this night no lead was safe. Mercy already saw a nine-point lead in Game 1 evaporate and an 11-0 lead in Game 4 disintegrate. Both games ended in Stony Brook victories.
“This game was all about momentum and about trying to take momentum back for both teams,” Calandro said.
The Monarchs had the final run and with it, their first victory of the season in League VIII.
After the best season in the program’s brief history last year ended one win shy of the playoffs, the Monarchs come into this season with a mostly new starting lineup. Navarra was the only full-time starter who’s back. Fellow senior and captain Marisa Balbo saw a lot of time last year, but didn’t always start.
The Monarchs lost three all-league players from last season, raising some questions as to how the new group would come together early in the season.
“I didn’t know if they knew exactly how they would mesh right away,” Calandro said. “But I think this is going to be the confidence game. If they can pull of this one, they can hang with anyone in this league.”
Both teams struggled throughout the match with serve receiving, leading to an abundance of aces. “Too many aces,” Calandro said. Both teams got on long streaks and for Stony Brook, mostly behind Katie Dahlseide.
The lefty vaulted Stony Brook back from a 20-11 hole in Game 1. She ran off nine straight service points to give the Bears a 21-20 lead. They went on to win the game 25-22, a tough blow for Mercy to bounce back from.
Stony Brook carried that momentum into an 8-2 lead in Game 2, only to see the Monarchs rally back and win the second and third games and go ahead 2-1.
And just as it looked like Mercy had the match in hand with an 11-0 lead in Game 4 behind some outstanding serving from junior Amanda Blacknik, the Bears climbed their way back into the game and pulled ahead with Dahlseide on the serve. Stony Brook closed the game out on an 11-2 run to send the match to a fifth game.
Calandro said the Monarchs struggled with the left-handed serve from Dahlseide.
“The angle coming from the left hand into the back position is odd,” he said. “I guess we haven’t practiced that enough, which we should because we have three lefties.”
Blacknik was one of those lefties who caused problems for Stony Brook.
Senior Danielle Gehring helped spark the Monarchs in Game 5 with several aces, the last of which gave the Monarchs a 9-8 lead.
Calandro said senior Caitlyn Walsh has been a much improved player this season who’s developed into a key starter.
“She’s someone I know if the ball is served to her, she’s going to pass it to the setter,” he said.
Junior Fiona Nuñez had a strong game for the Monarchs as well, delivering big kill after big kill.
The Monarchs have a week off before returning to the court next Thursday at Greenport.