It’s all about the future for the Riverhead High School girls volleyball team. Coach Kristin Andrejack is quick to make that point.
“For us, it’s looking to the future, the up-and-comings,” she said.
For now, every day presents another opportunity for the Blue Waves to take a step forward and get a little better as they try to navigate their way through a challenging Suffolk County League III schedule.
Riverhead has lost four of its first five matches, but wins and losses aren’t the point so much just yet in the team’s development. That is why Andrejack likes to talk about the future.
“We’ve got strong upperclassmen who are kind of leaving big shoes to fill, but we have a ton of young talent now,” she said. “We’ve got freshmen, we’ve got sophomores and they’re getting full exposure and a ton of work and the older girls are really mentoring them and we’re building.”
It’s not as if Riverhead is bereft of experience. Three seniors — outside hitter Nicolette Renten, libero Casey Plitt and middle hitter Brandi Meyer — are returning starters. Junior outside hitter Olivia Dickerson has been a cornerstone and sophomore Coco Wharton is the new starting setter. Libero Aly Romer, right-side hitter/setter Claudia Lagun and right-side hitter/outside hitter Layne Bendernagel are also back, although Bendernagel sat out all but the first two weeks last season with an ACL tear.
Andrejack was a three-year varsity player herself for Riverhead before graduating in 2010. In this, her second year as Riverhead’s coach, the team is in a building phase, and one of the items she wants her players to build is confidence, which she said is growing day by day.
“I think we need to focus on being more confident and believing in ourselves and believing that we can play well,” said Dickerson.
It can be hard to be bursting with confidence when a team plays a powerhouse like Smithtown East, a team of the present with quite an impressive past.
Smithtown East is seeking its 10th straight league championship, according to coach George Alamia, and judging by the way the Bulls played last Thursday, it would not be wise to bet against them. They walked into the Riverhead gym, bringing along a large stuffed unicorn (wearing a red Smithtown East shirt) and plenty of talent.
Undefeated Smithtown East (4-0, 3-0 League III), which lost to Ward Melville in last year’s Suffolk Class AA semifinals, showed its quality against Riverhead. Junior setter Marissa Oliveri produced 13 of the team’s 20 assists as Smithtown East rolled, 25-7, 25-15, 25-12.
It wasn’t as if Riverhead dreaded playing Smithtown East, though.
“The shocking thing is they truly enjoy playing against strong teams because they know it’s making them better and they enjoy playing when they’re being challenged,” said Andrejack. Andrejack said the Blue Waves like being pushed and they push each other to improve.
“Every practice we give it all we have and we go hard in games and we do the best we can,” Dickerson said. “It’s been a journey. We’ve improved a lot.”
Riverhead players participated in open gyms over the spring and summer, so they have already invested a good deal of time into the 2016 season.
“They’ve been working really hard,” Andrejack said. “They feel like their season should be over, but it has just started. They’ve come a long way. There’s nowhere to go but up from here.”
Photo caption: Riverhead libero Casey Plitt bumping a Smithtown East serve during last Thursday’s match. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)