Third time’s the charm.
The Riverhead girls volleyball team made school history Monday afternoon, knocking out No. 8 seed Longwood in the first round of the Section XI “AAA” playoffs and winning their first playoff game in program history, 3-0 at Longwood High School. After losing to Longwood in both matches during the season, the 25-19, 25-22, 25-22 straight sets victory was extra special.
“We were beyond hungry for this game,” Riverhead head coach Rose Horton said. “I had butterflies in my stomach all day. I just had a feeling we were going to come through.”
No. 9 Riverhead (11-6) came out slow against a confident Longwood squad, falling behind by as many as seven points early in the opening set. But the Blue Waves quickly turned the tide, eventually closing out the first game with seven consecutive points. Claire Normoyle, Lucia Mannetta and Kayleanne Campbell were in the middle of all the action, combining for 10 kills in the opening game.
“There’s been so much built up passion coming into this game,” Mannetta said. “We lost twice to them. We came into this game with an all or nothing attitude.”
“Longwood was a tough team this year for us,” Normoyle added. “I think we always had it in us to beat them. We just needed to pull it out of us.”
After the two losses to Longwood during the regular season, the Blue Waves closely studied the game tape to try to find ways to improve for the playoff. They found a common theme in both of the losses.
“We just gave away too many points with our own mistakes,” Horton said. “We worked hard in practice all weekend to be smarter with our decision-making. Make sure our serves go over. We knew we had to make them work for their points. It all comes down to taking care of the ball.”
Once the Blue Waves snagged the momentum, they never looked back. Strong outside hitters on Longwood who dominated the prior games were neutralized with key netside deflections and clutch digs as Riverhead refused to give away any easy points.
Longwood (9-6) once again came out hot to start the second set and dominated until late when Riverhead took its first lead, 21-20, on a clever Adriana Martinez kill where she faked a pass then deftly knocked the ball over the net instead. Martinez, the main set-up player for the Waves’ big hitters, snagged four kills in the game. The crowd at Longwood High School buzzed with Blue Wave chants as the blue heavily outweighed the green.
“We expected a big crowd,” Normoyle laughed. “We invited everyone. We brought the whole town to Longwood.”
The second-set momentum carried into the third frame as the Blue Waves pulled away with Campbell, Mannetta and Normoyle taking turns putting daggers into the Lions, one kill at a time. The crowd got on their feet with match point within grasp and Martinez pushed a perfect set over to Mannetta who crushed the ball between two Lions to end the game.
“All I was thinking was get it down,” Mannetta said of her game-winning stroke. “We needed to end it now. I had the opportunity and I took it.”
Mannetta finished with 10 kills, Campbell added nine and Normoyle connected on eight. Martinez was all over the court, setting up her teammates and contributed 20 assists over the three sets. Logan Pilon was key in the serving game, initiating many of the Blue Waves hot streaks and securing four key aces with crafty serves.
Riverhead’s Cinderella story continues. First, they made the playoffs for the first time in a decade. Then, they won the first playoff game in school history and got revenge on a team that beat them twice. They’ll have a chance to keep adding to the history books with a second round match against the No. 1 seed Commack on Thursday.
“I’ve always said that anyone can win at any time,” Horton said. “A lot of teams have counted Riverhead out. Nobody is just going to walk over us. These girls have more heart than I’ve ever seen.”