GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Fiona Nunez supplied Bishop McGann-Mercy with 15 service aces, 8 kills and a dink against Greenport/Southold.
MONARCHS 25, 20, 25, 25, CLIPPERS 16, 25, 12, 18
Anyone who was in the Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School gym about 90 minutes before the Monarchs’ home-opening match on Monday would have gained insight into the behind-the-scenes life of a girls volleyball coach. For Jamie Calandro, that involves dealing with one mini-crisis after another: trying to figure out how to operate a new control panel for the scoreboard, finding replacements for broken net antennas and, oh yeah, does anyone know where the padding is for the referee’s stand?
As Calandro dealt with one issue after another, he would have been relieved to know that one thing he wouldn’t have to worry about was the play of his team.
Every point in a match starts with a serve, but with McGann-Mercy, many of them end with a serve.
The Monarchs demonstrated their serving prowess by taking the League VIII opener for both teams, 25-16, 20-25, 25-12, 25-18. McGann-Mercy recorded 40 of its 95 points on aces. Fiona Nunez (15) and Amanda Blacknik combined for 28 aces themselves. By comparison, Greenport/Southold totaled 5 aces.
“It’s huge,” Nunez said of the importance of serving. “Without serving, there’s not much you can do.”
With that in mind, McGann-Mercy (1-1, 1-0) has spent a lot of time working on serving in practice, and it appears to have made a difference.
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Greenport/Southold’s Marina DeLuca swinging at the ball while Bishop McGann-Mercy’s Fiona Nunez attempts a block.
“Our practices have been: serve, serve receive, repeat; serve, serve receive, repeat,” said Calandro.
McGann-Mercy put 66 of its 94 serves (70.2 percent) in play, with Blacknik going 23 for 28 and Nunez 20 for 22.
Aside from serving, the biggest difference between the teams may have been experience. Seven of the nine Monarchs are seniors and the other two are juniors. The Clippers, on the other hand, have only one senior (Ashely Billera) who hasn’t played in a while, and six players who made their varsity debut Monday in the team’s season-opening match.
McGann-Mercy may have the strongest team during Calandro’s 10-year run as its coach. Six of the Monarchs played for the team last year, but Nunez, Blacknik and Rachel Klink were the only ones who saw regular or semi-regular playing time.
McGann-Mercy lost a four-year varsity player and all-county setter, Kaylee Navarra, to graduation. Regina Viola, who was the junior varsity team’s setter last year, has shown she has capable hands, registering 15 assists on Monday. Also, Calandro has raved about outside hitter Katie Nolan, who he said “has stepped up to be an absolute force for us.”
First and foremost, though, is Nunez. The senior captain supplied 8 kills and a dink to go with her tough serving.
“For our first league game, you know, I mean still two weeks into the season, I thought they were in very good form,” Calandro said. “They showed that they had very impressive individual skills and I think the loss in the second game woke them up, and [they] saw that they had to play team volleyball, too. Then the passing was right on and the serving was right on, and they were in a rhythm.”
The sort of rhythm that the young Clippers never found. Nerves were a factor.
“It’s a lot of nerves, so we just have to get over that,” Greenport/Southold’s libero, Sam Henry, said. “Other than that, I think we played really well. We need to work more as a team, but I think we’re getting there.”
What Greenport/Southold coach Sue Kostal took away from the match was the sense that her team needs to learn how to play under varsity pressure. Henry, Marina DeLuca and Kendra King were the only Clippers with previous varsity experience. Kostal said she has juniors who lack on-court experience. “These are juniors who have been on the bench, and now they’re on the court, and it’s a completely different animal,” she said, adding that her young players have the ability but just need confidence.
A big plus for the Clippers was the play of Henry.
“I think Sam played awesome,” Kostal said. “She kept us in the game most of the time with her passing, and her serving was outstanding.”
Sydney Mulvaney had 10 assists for Greenport/Southold.
Kostal knows that young teams tend to progress dramatically, and it sounds as if that is just what she expects to happen.
“We’ll be a completely different team by the end of the season,” she said confidently. “Guaranteed.”