Girls Volleyball: Riverhead gets a taste of top competition

In unison two Riverhead players jumped in front of the net on the right side, their arms outstretched toward the ceiling as high as they could go. Across the net the ball came falling toward West Islip hitter Erin Byrnes.

Seeing the double block that awaited her, Byrnes twisted to her right as she leaped in the air, lofting the ball nearly parallel to the net and dropping it softly on the opposite side of the court in no man’s land.

Point West Islip.

The Blue Waves got a taste of what the elite level of Suffolk County volleyball looks like Friday afternoon in a 3-1 loss at West Islip High School.

The Lions (4-2 League II, 7-2) won 25-6, 25-7, 19-25, 25-11 for the non-league victory, a warm-up before one of their biggest matches of the season next week against Lindenhurst.

“The third and fourth games we did show a lot of life,” said Riverhead coach Amy Bullock. “We’re a very young team. We came here as a learning experience.”

West Islip, a team that reached the semifinals of the Class AA playoffs last year, simply had too much firepower for the young Blue Waves to handle. When the Blue Waves did set up a good hit, the Lions more often than not had girls in position to block it. Most often the Blue Waves had enough trouble simply trying to return the serve.

The Lions tallied 25 aces over four games, five of which came from Erin Walsh during a string of nine straight points in the fourth game to help close out the match.

“If we can take anything out this game I hope it’s that we are improving,” Bullock said. “We are improving as the season is going and that’s all we’re looking for right now.”

The Lions led 6-5 in the first game before rolling off 19 of the next 20 points. Byrnes kept the momentum going on the serve for West Islip. She had five aces and kept the Blue Waves scrambling on her short serves.

West Islip coach Jim Klimkoski said the team spent a lot of time in practice working on serving short.

“[Byrnes] makes it look easy,” he said. “She’s good at serving short.”

Byrnes didn’t play at all in the second and third games. Most of West Islip’s starters took a seat for the second and third games before coming back on the court after the Blue Waves won Game 3.

In a competitive League II, the Lions don’t often have a chance to give their reserves ample playing time.

“I wanted to use this as getting some other girls experience,” Klimkoski said. “I don’t too often get a chance to put some subs in. Today from that point it worked out well.”

The Blue Waves (1-5 League IV, 1-7) took control in Game 3 behind the serve of Sara Tucci. The game was tied at 10 before the Blue Waves tallied six straight points. Tucci had three aces during the run. West Islip closed to within three points at 22-19. But the Blue Waves closed it out with a kill from Megan Brewer, who then took the serve and dropped an ace. Hali Martens delivered a kill for the final point.

“It’s something we’re striving to look for,” Bullock said, in describing the competition against the Lions. “Running quicks, getting our passes on target every time is something that hopefully by the end of the season is what we’re trying to accomplish, if not next season.”

Bullock said it’s about building a program at Riverhead right now. She hopes the girls can take what they learn this year and carry it into next season.

“They’re very nervous when they’re out there,” she said of the team’s younger players. “It’s a beginning. When we get up there I’m pretty sure we’ll be all right.”

Both of West Islip’s losses this season came in five games. The Lions opened the season with a loss at Lindenhurst. The teams will meet again Wednesday, which will give the Lions a strong barometer of where they stand this season as they look to make it to a county final.

“I’m right there, I’m just trying to get over that hump,” Klimkoski said.

In a lesser sense, so are the Blue Waves.

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