BLUE WAVES 3, FALCONS 1 (23-25, 25-14, 25-14, 25-12)
There was never a thought of if the Riverhead girls volleyball team would clinch a playoff spot. For coach Amy Greene, it was only a matter of when.
As the Blue Waves celebrated in the aftermath of Friday’s playoff-clinching win over Deer Park at Riverhead High School, Greene had a surprise for her players: white T-shirts proudly proclaiming the Blue Waves are playoff bound.
“These were a surprise,” said senior Hali Martens after the team posed for photos in their new shirts. “We didn’t know we were getting them, so I guess coach had a lot of faith in us.”
The Blue Waves had four matches remaining beginning Friday and needed just one win to guarantee their first playoff trip since 2010.
“I tell them I have more confidence in them than the world,” Greene said. “So I believed that they were going to get there. Whatever game they got there, those shirts were going to come out for them. It’s a little extra boost.”
For the five seniors on varsity it’ll be their first time playing in a playoff match. The playoffs are slated to begin Oct. 31.
“It’s awesome because we’ve always been the underdog,” Martens said. “Now we came back and we’re better than ever.”
It almost looked as if the T-shirts might have be stored away for at least another match when the Falcons came out and took Game 1, 25-23, after holding off a late rally from the Blue Waves.
It was the fourth straight match Riverhead lost Game 1, but the Waves bounced back to dominate the rest of the way. Riverhead won the next three games 25-14, 25-14, 25-12.
Greene said a pep rally at the end of the school day to kick off homecoming festivities might have zapped some of the team’s energy.
“I think the girls were a little bit drained from exerting all their energy there and then coming into here,” she said. “We just needed to wake up a little bit on the court again.”
Deer Park came into the match with only one league win on its resume. But the Falcons (2-10 overall) came out strong, not giving away any easy points to Riverhead (9-3 overall) and forcing the Blue Waves to make plays.
Martens said improving communication on the court was a key to the turnaround.
“The loss kind of motivated us,” she said.
Martens had a big day playing outside hitter for Riverhead with 6 kills and 10 digs. Junior libero Joscelin Morrow had 41 digs and 6 service aces.
Late in Game 2, with the Falcons still hanging around, Morrow and Martens both came up with several big plays to close out the game. Morrow took the serve with Riverhead ahead 20-14. The Blue Waves closed out the game with five straight points, including a Martens kill and ace from Morrow. Middle hitter Megan Brewer delivered the final point with a kill.
In Game 3, Riverhead jumped ahead 12-4 and never looked back. Game 4 was similar as the Blue Waves led 10-1, then 17-3.
“Once we [woke up], they were relentless,” Greene said. “They were all over the floor and they were exciting to watch.”
There was some good news with the return of sophomore Dezarea Brown, who had missed a few matches with an ankle injury, Greene said. Brown played sparingly in the middle as Greene wanted to bring back along slowly.
“She came back and it was like she never left,” Martens said.
Greene said Brown’s return just adds to the Blue Waves’ depth. In her absence junior Rachel Clement got more playing time.
Senior Sara Tucci had 20 assists and a pair of service aces for Riverhead.
“She does a great job getting to the ball,” Greene said. “She put her body out on the floor a few times. And she hustles to set every ball.”
With one goal complete now in making the playoffs, the Blue Waves will turn their attention to the next goal: closing out the regular season with three more wins and beating Bellport Oct. 28.
The Clippers, who are 8-1 in league, defeated Riverhead in a grueling five-set match two weeks ago.
“Our goal is to beat Bellport,” Martens said. “That’s a really big goal we have.”