Cramping Di Angela survives for fourth title

Dan Kujawski’s court coverage helped Di Angela Leather to its fourth North Side-Out Beach Volleyball League Tournament title in seven years.

Moments after Di Angela Leather had clinched its second straight North Side-Out Beach Volleyball League Tournament title, Dan Kujawski sent a text message to one of his absent teammates, Patty Millman. To Millman, who was in possession of the volleyball that serves as the league’s perpetual trophy, he typed, “Keep the trophy.”

As Geoff Penny and Kujawski, teammates on a shorthanded Di Angela Leather team, watched the early-round action in the tournament swirl all around them at the Breakwater Beach courts in Mattituck on Saturday, the two longtime veterans sat back and reflected on what they needed to do to be successful.

“We just need more court coverage,” Penny said. “You have to trust your teammates more to cover the shot.”

Kujawski joked, “We don’t have any energy to conserve.”

But while Penny, Kujawski and teammate Missy Weiss were later bothered by cramping, Di Angela Leather won a 21-15, 21-18 final over Woodside Orchards’ Ryan Wilsberg and Jonathan Polistena to successfully defend their title. It was Di Angela’s fourth tournament title in seven years.

With teammates Kelly Urbanik and Bob Gammon away, Wilsberg and Polistena also had more court to cover playing doubles in a coed fours tournament. “It was tough,” Wilsberg said. “We ran the gauntlet. Di Angela just had the experience on us.”

Polistena said he “didn’t expect to make it this far.”

But it was a riveting final that saw many of the players cramp up. Di Angela had to take a timeout when Penny’s hamstring tightened up. Weiss had cramps in her toes.

The stirring title match truly was survival of the fittest. Nonetheless, with Penny hitting his patented feathery touch shots that consistently found the open corners of the court, Di Angela persevered to win the championship.

When it was finally over, Penny said he was “shocked. Early on we were bad, but we played better as the match went on.”

Weiss, who did a tremendous job setting up Penny and Kujawski, called the win “awesome. We did it!”

Going into the tournament, Di Angela Leather (33-5) and Woodside Orchards (33-5) had the best records in the league (Di Angela was seeded first based on head-to-head play against Woodside), followed closely by Zuhoski Landscaping (26-13), the American Exterior and Interior Eagles (24-15), Founders Tavern (22-18) and Beachwood Sand and Gravel (20-19).

On a day when a number of teams were missing players and the tournament appeared to be wide open, it was ironic that it produced a rematch of last year’s finals.

In the round-robin pool play, Founders Tavern and Zuhoski Landscaping were both playing extremely well. Frank Polistena, the league director, said that with its “young and athletic team, Zuhoski was going to give the other teams a run for their money.”

Di Angela Leather, Woodside Orchards, Founders Tavern and Zuhoski Landscaping advanced to the semifinals. Di Angela topped the Founders Tavern team of Dan Hagerman, Carl Ruthinoski and Heather Sterling, 21-18, 21-8. Woodside outlasted the Zuhoski Landscaping team of Haley Willumsen, Ian Zuhoski, Brian McFarland and Tim Bialeski, 21-19, 21-18, to reach the finals.

Zuhoski Landscaping beat Founders Tavern in the consolation match to finish in third place.

The Peconic Home Inspection team, led by George Aldcroft, Andrew Cappelino, Cindy Belt and Joe Warren, won the “B” bracket championship.

Frank Polistena said he was pleased with how the season played out.

“We had a lot of new, young players and we squeezed in 18 teams,” he said. “I couldn’t be more pleased with the behavior, skill and competition level. Beach volleyball is such a unique sport. The players play with passion and it is sociable at the same time. No matter what kind of player you are, you can have certain characteristics and still compete. It is an exhilarating feeling when you are in the zone.”

Di Angela Leather knows the feeling.