11/04/10 5:09pm
11/04/2010 5:09 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO Smithtown East's Katie Szabo, left, and Riverhead's Mariah Messina took part in a joust at the net.

ST. JAMES — From the head coach to the players, the Smithtown East High School girls volleyball team consists of as affable a group as one is likely to find anywhere. That friendliness and pleasantness is part of their off-the-court demeanor. On the court, though, the Bulls are all about business. When they are playing, the Bulls go hard, rarely giving points away.

“When we’re on, we’re on, and can do really great things,” Delia Phillips, the team’s standout junior outside hitter, said. “We’re relentless. We don’t give up very easily, and we’re going to give it our all, no matter what.”

Just to get an idea of how big a hill the Riverhead Blue Waves tried to climb in their Suffolk County Class AA Tournament first-round match against Smithtown East on Thursday, consider this: With the exception of a hitting error here and there, Riverhead played well in the first game — and still lost, 25-15.

Riverhead proceeded to play what its coach, James Korte, called its best match of the year. It didn’t matter as far as the final result was concerned. Third-seeded Smithtown East took the next two games, 25-15 and 25-9, to advance to the quarterfinals. The League III champion Bulls (13-2) will host the No. 6 Copiague Eagles (14-3) in a quarterfinal on Saturday.

In order for No. 14 Riverhead (6-9) to have pulled off an upset, it would have needed to play a close to flawless match. The margin of error that Smithtown East allows opponents is next to nil.

“They don’t make many mistakes,” Korte said of the Bulls. “They kept the ball [on] the court and the pressure on us.”

With 95-percent serving, Smithtown East made only four service errors. Phillips, who Smithtown East Coach George Alamia regards as one of the top five hitters on Long Island, put away 13 kills to go with nine service points, four service aces, one dink and one block. The Bulls also received 21 assists from Katie Szabo and 11 service points from Maggie Engellenner, a defensive specialist who excels at keeping balls from falling to the floor. Kristen Scicchitano went 14 for 14 serving with seven service points.

Alyssa Meyer had eight assists and Danielle McCabe put down five kills for Riverhead .

Smithtown East, which has won four straight league championships, has never won a county crown, although it came painfully close last year. The Bulls had won the first game of the 2009 county final, but saw their best hitter, Kathie Demonte, go down with an injury in the second game. They ended up losing in five games to the Ward Melville Patriots.

Phillips called it the toughest loss she has ever experienced. At the same time, she said, “We definitely left with our heads up just because we know that we played a good match, and that’s what matters most.”

Alamia said his team is determined not to end the season with an empty feeling. The Bulls want to win their first county title since Smithtown was split into Smithtown East and Smithtown West.

“We think we’re one of the best teams in the playoffs,” Alamia  said. “We’re not looking up to anybody. We feel like we can play with anybody and take anybody on any given day.”

That’s the sort of team Riverhead had to contend with, and the Blue Waves didn’t shy away from the challenge. They hung tough, even when Smithtown East charged out to a 9-0 lead in the second game, largely on the strength of Scicchitano’s serving. Riverhead was unable to come back from that deficit, but it did close the gap to one point at 13-12 before Smithtown East pulled away again.

“That’s something with us,” Riverhead outside hitter Stacy Griffing said. “We don’t give up, no matter how much we’re down by.”

Riverhead led only once at 4-3 in the third game, but the Blue Waves could feel good about their effort.

“Our best game was today,” Griffing said. “I think we played really hard. I’ve never seen everyone hit the floor like they did today. Everyone was chasing balls, and we did really well with our serving.”

Griffing played her final match for Riverhead as did the team’s five other seniors: Brianna Gillian, Emily Groneman, Jamilyn Marsh, McCabe and Meyer.

Smithtown East, meanwhile, still has more volleyball to play. Its best could be yet to come.

Said Phillips, “We’ve got more stuff to show you.”

bliepa@timesreview.com

10/01/10 4:39pm
10/01/2010 4:39 PM

As far as James Korte knows, the Riverhead High School girls volleyball team has never won a league championship. The Blue Waves coach and his players may want to start contemplating the possibility of that changing.

Granted, there is still a great deal of volleyball to be played, but Riverhead has begun its Suffolk County League IV schedule in fine fashion, winning four of its first five league matches.

Right now, Riverhead is among the frontrunners along with the Bellport Clippers and the Copiague Eagles, who are responsible for Riverhead ‘s only league loss.

“If we get to pick up a win against Bellport, it’s anyone’s league,” Korte said. “That would be huge if we were able to take the league.”

An encouraging showing was made Friday when Riverhead , with accurate passing and a combined 10 assists from Courtney Rheaume and Brianna Gillian, scored a 25-20, 25-21, 25-13 defeat of the visiting Comsewogue Warriors. It was Riverhead ‘s fourth win in six matches.

“I think that was one of our best matches of the season so far,” Korte said. “The girls finally started to communicate on the court with each other. We played some defense, and we got scrappy a little bit.”

Alyssa Meyer of Riverhead went 8 for 9 serving with four aces while Rheaume and Gillian both put 9 of 10 serves in play.

Brianna Fonti went 9 for 9 serving for Comsewogue, which dropped to 2-5, 2-3 in League IV.

The match did not offer any gaudy statistics, but it was satisfying for Riverhead , nonetheless. The Blue Waves started off the first two games trailing, overcoming a 7-3 deficit in Game 2 when it took the lead for good on three straight aces by Meyer.

“We work really hard in practice, and then we show it in our games,” Riverhead middle hitter Fatima Brown said. “We put our heart into the sport.”

Another good sign was the return of Danielle McCabe. McCabe, a senior middle hitter, played her first match for Riverhead since injuring an ankle in a collision with teammate Emily Groneman. Although McCabe isn’t back to where she was before the injury, she still went 8 for 8 serving in the third game, which saw Riverhead bolt to an 18-4 lead.

Riverhead played an improved Comsewogue team that had been winless the previous three years. All that changed, though, when Comsewogue won its season-opener this year, stunning the North Babylon Bulldogs — in North Babylon, nonetheless.

“Nobody was expecting it,” said Fonti, a senior middle hitter in her fourth varsity season. “We won, and everyone was like, ‘Wow!’ ”

It was a breakthrough.

Comsewogue Coach April Quick called the win over North Babylon “phenomenal.” She said: “I felt like the energy was incredibly high. I think we’re still in the building stages of creating a good, strong team, but [it's] definitely a vast improvement over last year.”
Do the Warriors dare think about qualifying for the playoffs?

“It’s in everyone’s mind, you know,” Fonti said. “It’s this big reach, but I like to think about it, finish senior year going to the playoffs. It would be awesome.”

On Friday, Comsewogue was missing one regular starter, junior middle hitter/outside hitter Jamie Brett, and four other Warriors were nursing colds.

Things went relatively smoothly for Riverhead , just the way Brown likes it. “It makes it a lot, a lot easier,” she said. “When we got down, we picked each other back up.”

Riverhead is well on the way toward booking a return trip to the playoffs. Two more league wins would do the trick, and from there, who knows where the Blue Waves could end up?

“We’ve had our ups and downs, no doubt about it, but name one team that doesn’t have ups and downs,” Korte said. “You got to work through them and grow.”

bliepa@timesreview.com