The Riverhead High School girls volleyball team may not be quite ready yet to measure its progress by wins and losses, but that long-awaited win on Friday sure felt good.
“It’s our first win in my whole entire time on varsity,” senior setter Coco Wharton said of the four-set, non-league victory over visiting Hampton Bays. “It was amazing.”
Wins have been few and far between for the Blue Waves, who are 4-43 over four years and went 0-14 last year. A mark in the win column, a taste of victory for a team that hasn’t had a lot of them, was just what the doctor ordered for the psyche.
“I think that that really kind of was like a turning point, like the girls realized that they could do it,” said Riverhead’s new coach, Rose Horton.
At the same time, being bumped up a league to Suffolk County League II isn’t making wins any easier to come by for Riverhead. A reminder of that was served Monday when a strong Northport team rolled to a 25-10, 25-13, 25-8 win. Host Riverhead (1-5, 0-4) had spells where it hung with Northport (5-0, 5-0), but the Tigers were more consistent passers, better hitters and just plain more experienced. All six of their starters are club players.
“They’re phenomenal,” Wharton said. “Their hitters are strong. That’s not easy to do. I would love to meet some of those girls. … They’re amazing.”
Sophie Campbell had 19 assists and Sydnie Rohme put away 11 kills along with six service aces for an improved Northport team that went 3-7 last season.
As a team, Northport held clear advantages in aces (17-2), assists (23-8), kills (25-8) and points (75-31).
No, life in League II is not easy, but then again, it should make Riverhead a better team, no?
“Absolutely, because they’re going to have no choice,” said Northport coach Chris Fritch. He said the Blue Waves “played hard. They fought. They tried hard. They really tried to claw their way back in a few times.”
As for his own team, Fritch said: “We played really well. We have to clean up a couple of things, but overall we’re happy. We’re sitting where we want to be in the league.”
Why shouldn’t they be? The Tigers sit in first place. They are the league’s only undefeated team and at the start of the day were one of six such teams in the county.
Riverhead was at the bottom of the standings along with Lindenhurst (0-6, 0-4).
Riverhead middle hitter Melanie Vail said the League II competition is going to sharpen the Blue Waves. “It’s going to kick our butt in the beginning, but in the end we’ll probably get a lot better,” she said.
Among the highlights for Riverhead were several tremendous diving/sprawling digs by Elizabeth Dowd and a courageous example of hustle by Wharton, who flung herself into a chair on the team bench to save a ball for a second-set point Riverhead won.
“All I saw was my coach on the bench, trying to run out of the way,” Wharton said. “When you get a point out of it and you see your girls behind you following you, like having confidence that you’re going to get the ball, it makes you feel good. Like, you don’t really care that you ran into chairs. You’re just more worried about what’s in the moment, like the point.”
Meanwhile, Riverhead is still a team learning how to win.
“Sometimes we get in our head,” Horton said. “Like 80 to 90 percent of the game is right between your two ears, right? And you got to be able to shake off something that’s not good that happened and just focus on the next play. Honestly, little by little, we see certain things that we struggled with at the beginning of the season starting to come together.”
And there’s some other things Horton is seeing that make her feel good: smiles on the faces of her players.
“That’s what I enjoy,” she said. “I love [seeing] happy faces.”
Photo caption: Coach Rose Horton and her Riverhead Blue Waves have their work cut out for them in League II. (Credit: Bob Liepa)