Even before teams take on the monumental task of trying to topple the Elwood/John Glenn High School girls volleyball team, they are reminded of how difficult it would be.
Beyond the fact the Knights are 11-0 this season, the walls of the Northport school’s gymnasium are plastered with 28 championship banners commemorating teams that have captured league, Suffolk County and New York State championships.
The 2017 state crown is the most recent banner.
Shoreham Wading-River was reminded how tough the Knights are in the Suffolk Class B semifinals on Monday, dropping all three sets, 25-11, 25-12, 25-15.
“We knew coming into it they’re a very solid team,” Shoreham coach Megan Johnson said. “I don’t know about other teams upstate, but they have a very good chance of not only going to states but winning. We knew coming into today we would have to play our best. They found all the holes. Whenever we tried to adjust, they would find what was open. It was rough.”
The top-seeded Knights will meet Bayport-Blue Point, a three-set winner over Center Moriches in its semifinal encounter, in the final at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood for the county title Thursday.
While the Wildcats realized they faced an uphill battle after Glenn had defeated them twice during the regular season, it didn’t make it any easier for senior Katlynn McGivney, one of three seniors who competed in her last match for Shoreham (7-9).
“Going in, knowing it is my last game is tough, to know that I am done,” said McGivney, who had tears in her eyes. “It’s very emotional. I guess you can tell I am bit of a mess here.”
She then laughed and continued: “Volleyball is a game of emotions. A lot of different things revolve around the energy both on and off the court, so it’s very emotional for me.”
It would have been difficult for many teams to overcome the Knights Monday because they played at such a lofty level. They are a highly skilled side, performing with precision, power, placement and consistency, not always in that order.
“We went into this game with the mentality of we have nothing to lose,” McGivney said. “Why not go play as hard as we can? They were the favorites to win. Who knows? Anything can happen on any day. We just wanted to play well and go out on a good note.”
In each of the three sets, Glenn pulled away early.
In the first set, Shoreham enjoyed a 3-2 advantage, but with Sophia Hadjiyane serving, Glenn recorded six successive points.
With Caroline Miller serving in the second set, the Knights scored 12 consecutive points to grab a 12-1 lead.
And in the third game, with Hadjiyane serving, Glenn broke away early, turning a 4-2 edge into an 8-2 lead.
“My team plays best when they just play, try not let the pressure get to them because they start to second-guess themselves,” Johnson said. “So my philosophy was just play, have fun, do your best. When we have fun and let ourselves play and not get in our heads, we play amazing and it’s hard to do that against a team like this. That was our main philosophy, try to keep the ball away from No. 22.”
No. 22 is senior captain and setter Mia Cergol, who finished the day with nine kills, five service aces, 22 assists and seven digs. Quite appropriately, she ended the first two sets as the server.
“She is an amazing player,” Johnson said. “I think she’s hands down, definitely the best player in our league, probably in all of Class B. You try to keep [the ball] away from her, but she’s going to find it. She excels at every skill that there is.”
Junior outside hitter Alyson Mallon said Shoreham was in awe of Cergol.
“Look at her. See how amazing she plays,” she said. “We all admire her pretty much, look up to her and try and do the best we can against them.”
After losing six seniors to graduation last year — including five starters — Johnson was quite happy with the season. “Going into this year, we weren’t really sure on how this could pan out,” she said. “The fact that we got here, I’m so proud of these girls.”
Despite the loss, the future looks bright for Shoreham, which will lose only three seniors to graduation.
“They’re big and important but we have a pretty young team and a lot of us are playing club, so that will help us play throughout this year and get much better,” Mallon said.
And perhaps take a step towards challenging Glenn for Class B superiority someday.
Photo caption: Senior Katlynn McGivney playing in her final match for Shoreham Wading-River, a three-set loss to Elwood/John Glenn. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)