Apparently, first impressions don’t mean a darn thing in volleyball. Nor do second, third and fourth impressions, for that matter.
In this sport, momentum is a fragile, fickle thing that can come and go with each serve.
That was the case in Wednesday’s Suffolk County League VII girls match between Shoreham-Wading River and Mount Sinai. What started out looking like it would be an easy three-setter for SWR, turned into an exhausting five-setter in which the total points were virtually identical (118-116 in SWR’s favor) and no set was decided by more than four points.
Five-set matches are rare enough, but a team bouncing back to win after dropping the first two sets is rarer still. That’s what visiting SWR pulled off, 21-25, 22-25, 25-22, 25-23, 25-21.
The match featured the good, the bad, the ugly and everything else in between.
SWR senior setter Katlynn McGivney said, “I know we did have some downs, we did have some poor moments, but honestly, to be able to pull through, to come back after losing two sets, it just shows you what kind of team we are to come back from something like that.”
“That was insane,” SWR coach Megan Johnson said. “It was an emotional roller coaster.”
Interestingly, in the five sets, there were a total of only five lead changes, none in the second, third and fifth sets.
In the decisive fifth set, SWR (4-2, 4-2) built a commanding 21-11 lead that looked safe enough — until Mount Sinai (2-4, 2-4) threatened it. The Mustangs used a 10-2 run to pull to within two points at 23-21. A carry call against Mount Sinai preceded Kaila Teodoro’s match-winning shot to clinch it.
“Yeah, there were a lot of ups and downs,” said McGivney (28 assists, four service aces). “I think it’s honestly all about energy, energy on and off the court. The first two sets we kind of laid low. We weren’t being very aggressive. Then we finally found a rhythm. People started swinging. We started serving more aggressively. It came together. The energy was there.”
SWR, which had scored a three-set win over Mount Sinai earlier in the season, had started the match convincingly. The Wildcats flew out to a 9-1 lead in the first set.
Undeterred, Mount Sinai whittled its way back. The Mustangs tied it at 19-19 and then, in the only lead change of the set, went in front, 20-19, on consecutive hitting errors by SWR.
“It was unexpected that they came back,” Johnson said. “We weren’t expecting it, and we started to doubt ourselves.”
Perhaps that doubt crept into the second set. Mount Sinai’s organized defense and tremendous play by Paige Brauer (28 kills, five blocks, one ace) made a big difference, too.
In the second set, it was Mount Sinai that jumped out to a 9-1 lead. SWR was unable to go in front, although the Wildcats did tie it, 22-22. However, two SWR hitting errors and a kill by Mount Sinai’s Holly McNair (14 kills, four aces, one assist, one block) down the stretch sealed it.
Those two sets saw SWR play what Johnson called some of its worst volleyball of the season. “That was probably the lowest, and hopefully the lowest that it will be for the season,” she said.
SWR picked up its play the rest of the way, although Mount Sinai caused some uneasy moments for the Wildcats in the fifth set by closing to within 23-21 of them.
Johnson said: “It’s something about whenever we play Mount Sinai … You can never count them out.”
Alyson Mallon, who along with McGivney are among SWR’s 10 club players, finished with 12 kills, two aces and an assist. Brianna Huebner added nine kills, two aces and a block.
Mount Sinai’s Morgan Mitchell had 12 assists.
As exhilarating as the triumph was for SWR, it was also something else.
“It’s tiring,” Mallon said after the volleyball marathon.
The club influence is having a positive influence on SWR’s team, with players getting more touches on the ball, facing better competition and learning from different coaches. Johnson has seen the difference it has made in Mallon, a junior outside hitter.
“She was on JV as a ninth-grader … and then she played club, and when she came back the next year, she played varsity,” Johnson said. “It was night and day.”
As were the feelings SWR must have felt at different times during the ebb and flow of Wednesday’s match.
“Coming out with a win in that situation, I think, was huge for our team, beyond just our record, but just like our momentum, our confidence,” Johnson said. “We needed that.”