The color of the day was clearly pink — for the Dig Pink girls volleyball match at Miller Place High School — but Shoreham-Wading River was feeling blue.
At once, the Wildcats were without senior setter Sam Rutkowsky (concussion), sophomore outside hitter Paige Alessi (right shoulder) and senior middle hitter Anna Baumeister (strep throat) for Thursday’s non-league match. That’s half the starting lineup! Talk about a gut punch.
Even so, SWR coach Megan Johnson consoled herself with the thought that the Wildcats have good depth. “I genuinely didn’t think it was going to go that bad,” she said.
She was wrong.
Call it a testament to the value of chemistry in a sport in which the six players a team puts on a court might as well be linked by a rope. That chemistry was disrupted and SWR clearly missed those three regular starters dearly. It showed in their three-set loss.
“Honestly, I think they’re a big part of our energy, so without them it’s hard for everyone else to kind of pick up what they bring to the court,” senior outside hitter Alyson Mallon said after SWR’s 25-17, 25-14, 25-21 defeat. “So, that part was difficult.”
Asked how much of an impact it made not having those three players on the court, senior middle hitter Kaila Teodoro answered: “A lot, actually, because I’m so used to playing with all those girls, and now all the freshmen are coming in, and there are new faces, people who haven’t played on varsity yet … We’re trying to work as hard as we can, but it’s hard.”
Minus those three key components, junior setter Tesia Roth, freshman setter Kamryn Osik and freshman outside hitter Dayna Napolitano were given starts.
“The rest of the people we were playing are talented, too, so I really didn’t see it playing out that badly,” Johnson said. “I didn’t think it was going to have that much of an impact, but it clearly [did]. That’s the worst we played, hands down, the worst we played. We could not get the ball to our hitters. We could not connect with our hitters and put a ball away.”
Ironically, SWR (4-4 overall, 4-2 Suffolk County League VII) jumped out to leads of 10-2 in the first set, 5-0 in the second set and 2-0 in the third set, only to see them dissolve away. What happened?
“I wish I knew the answer, but I really couldn’t tell you,” said Teodoro.
SWR held a 19-18 edge in the third set, but was later hurt by four straight hitting errors and a service error that handed Miller Place a 24-20 lead. The match ended when Chloe Siena (eight kills, three assists, one block) put away a set from Izzy Daleo (12 assists, two service aces, one kill).
Miller Place’s hitting game was a little more on, with 20 kills to SWR’s 13. The Panthers (2-6, 1-5 League VI) also received fine defense from libero Julia Lent.
“Their libero is a phenomenal player,” Johnson said. “She’s all over the court … If you hit the ball anywhere near her, she’s getting it.”
Teodoro said she almost cried in practice when she learned that Rutkowsky had a non-volleyball-related concussion. And then there was the bad news about Alessi and Baumeister.
Mallon said the season had been going “surprisingly good” for third-place SWR before this disturbing turn of events. Teodoro said, “We’re doing good, but I guess today wasn’t our day.”
Rutkowsky very well could be out for the rest of the season, said Johnson. The coach said Alessi could return in a week or so or miss the remainder of the season as well. It is hoped that Baumeister will be back on the court next week.
“We went into this game like, OK, it’s non-league, we’re missing a lot of people,” Johnson said. “We have a league game tomorrow [at Southampton]. OK, it is what it is, but obviously we didn’t want to play like that.”
Photo caption: From left, Shoreham-Wading River’s Maya Klatsky, Lauren Halloran and Alyson Mallon at Miller Place High School on Thursday. (Credit: Bob Liepa)