Prior to Monday’s match, coach Megan Johnson was asked what her Shoreham-Wading River girls volleyball team needed to do in order to reach the playoffs.
Her answer: Win all three of its remaining matches.
Oh, that’s all.
Considering that Islip and Bayport-Blue Point, two of the tougher teams in Suffolk County League V, were on the schedule for two of those matches, that was a tall order.
Now, following Monday’s contest in Shoreham, the Wildcats’ playoff chances are nil. Hard-swinging Jacqueline Bryant and Islip’s virtually automatic-return defense saw to that.
The Buccaneers took down SWR in three sets for the second time this season. This time, however, SWR turned in an improved, if uneven, showing in its 25-21, 25-20, 25-6 defeat.
Islip coach Kimberly Waldvogel’s final instruction to her players before taking the court was simple and to the point: “Go out there and win!”
The roller coaster of a season some Wildcats had spoken about was perfectly illustrated. SWR saw some of the best — and worst — of itself in the match.
A thoroughly entertaining and well-played first set saw SWR leading, 16-11, before Islip (10-4, 10-4) rallied with four kills by Bryant the rest of the set. Back-to-back SWR hitting errors snapped an 18-18 tie. SWR (5-8, 5-8) never regained the lead, although two back-row hits by libero Lauren Halloran pulled the Wildcats within one at 21-20 and 22-21. A succession of untimely hitting and service errors down the stretch ultimately sank SWR, with a tip at the net by Maggie Hayes ending it.
“That was real volleyball,” said Kaila Teodoro, who co-captains SWR along with Tesia Roth. Teodoro added: “We put up a fight. We used our hitters.”
One could sense during the second set that the match was slipping away from SWR. Though SWR fell behind, 22-12, the Wildcats managed to pull within three when a Meghan Klotz block cut Islip’s lead to 23-20.
SWR never really challenged in the third set. Islip scored the first seven points and stormed to a 10-1 lead, with five of those points the result of SWR hitting errors and another one off a SWR passing error. “It was just too many errors on our side,” said Teodoro.
Johnson said she has an emotional team, and once a player makes a couple of mistakes, “it becomes like a domino affect. So we’re either like emotionally high up there and flowing like we were in the first set or we just are our own worst enemy and we take ourselves out of the game like we did in the third set.”
For the match, SWR exceeded its margin for error: hitting errors (17), passing errors (eight), service errors (six).
A team cannot afford that against a squad like Islip. Not with a powerful hitter like Bryant (17 kills). Not with a setter like Haley Bergen (10 assists). Not with a defense led by Jessica Hagihara and Emily Vitale.
“We are a powerhouse,” said Waldvogel.
Islip’s defense was a wall. On a number of occasions, SWR strung together a nice pass, a nice set and a nice hit, only to see the ball somehow returned, often with force. That can be deflating. “It gets really tiring at some point,” said Teodoro.
Halloran has been one of SWR’s top players this season. She was the League VII Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore in 2019. The girl in the white libero jersey made 11 digs to go with two kills, a service ace and an assist against Islip. It was her first match after one week of quarantining because of a close COVID-19 contact.
“That was not even close to being her best,” Johnson said. “She picks up everything. She’s all over the court. She hits out of the back row. She will do anything for us.”
What was Johnson’s reaction to missing out on the playoffs?
“We’re not going to be in the playoffs, which obviously stinks,” she said. “We always want to make playoffs, but at the end of the day, you know, we’re just happy and lucky that we had a season. So, we’ve just been trying to keep that mentality from the beginning. We’re lucky to be here; we’re grateful to be here. We take every day as a gift and just do what we can. That’s fine.”