Sam Cox rocks. But you don’t need the signs in the Pierson gym to tell you that. The senior outside and middle hitter’s game speaks for itself, as she slammed the ball down every time it came to her, racking up 23 kills in the Whalers’ 3-2 win over No. 3 Greenport/Southold October 30 to advance to the Suffolk County Class C championship.
“It was a little too close for comfort for my liking, but we just showed the best perseverance,” Cox said. “We just thought this is our game. We wanted to swing hard, place the ball strategically. This is our home court and we don’t let them take anything from us.”
No. 2-seeded Pierson (12-3) was up 2-0 after 25-9 and 25-18 first and second-set wins. That’s when momentum shifted the Clippers’ way. Greenport/Southold (7-8) jumped out to a 13-6 lead to start the third before back-to-back kills by Cox and Grace Flanagan broke up a six-point scoring streak. The senior added five more kills before the set was over, and sophomore setter Sofia Mancino made back-to-back diving plays during the same volley, but the Whalers still dropped the set 25-19.
“They came back with a little bit more energy than we did,” Cox said. “We got too comfortable. We fell out of our routine, and we tried our best to bounce back from it, but struggled.”
Mancino, who had 30 assists and eight aces, was her typical flying-all-over-the-court self.
“She played amazing; absolutely amazing,” head coach Donna Fischer said. “She is so tough. She doesn’t give up on a ball.”
Mancino fell racing for it in the third, and from her knees leapt up and bumped the ball before falling back down on them. The sophomore quickly rose to throw herself horizontally onto the back of the court to dig out another return seconds later.
“When I first started playing I wanted to be a libero, so that’s the inner libero in me. I just love going for the ball,” Mancino said, laughing. “I never want that ball to hit the ground. I want the point to keep going. It’s also about the adrenaline rush, and playing this game gives me a huge one.”
After dropping the fourth set 26-24, the Whalers admitted while they thought they should win, they entered the fifth with some doubt.
“We’re all confident in what we can do,” Cox said, “but it’s always in the back of your mind: ‘What if?’”
“I felt it should have been done in three,” Fischer said. “When they start missing some passing and some digs in the back court they get in their heads. We talk about it in practice all the time; that they can’t come back. They have to look to the next ball.”
“But it’s OK,” she added, smiling. “They pulled it off.”
Greenport/Southold started the fifth up 2-0 before Pierson earned the next four points. A Clippers tip tied the set at 4-all and a miscue made it 5-all before Cox caught fire. She slammed down a kill, and while Greenport/Southold saved her next few attempts still struggled to return the ball off them, either hitting the ball into the back court or at the net. A few Clippers serves were also out of bounds. Cox made it 11-8 on another kill, and Sam Grabb 12-8 on her ace. The Whalers finished the match with 20 aces.
After a Pierson out-of-bounds serve brought the score to 13-9, the Whalers earned the next five. Cox and senior libero Olivia Cassone each made their own saving plays in one of the longest volleys of the game, which ended with Greenport/Southold hitting out of bounds to make it 15-9. A Cox ace made it 18-9, Flanagan kill made it 19-10, Cox kill made it 22-12, before the Clippers made errors on the final three points.
“This is very nostalgic,” Cox said. “I started out here six years ago. This is my last home game ever. I don’t think it could’ve ended any better.”
The team was once again without junior middle blocker Gylia Dryden (headache/slight concussion), who had seven solo blocks, six kills, and an ace the first meeting between the two teams, where the Whalers shut out the Clippers 3-0.
“That was a bit of a problem for us,” Fischer said. “That put everyone a little more on edge than they may have been.”
The coach said she’s hoping Dryden will be back when Pierson rematches No. 1 Mattituck (15-1) in the finals Wednesday November 6 at Greenport High School at 6 PM.
“It’s all or nothing out there,” Cox said. “We’ll leave it all out on the court.”
Mattituck won in five sets (26-28, 25-17, 25-19, 19-25, 18-25) when the two teams squared off back on September 20 and swept the Whalers (25-19, 25-21, 25-17) in a League VIII title-clinching match October 16.
“After playing this game we’re stronger, and going to work harder,” Mancino said. “Mattituck better be ready.”