Gylia Dryden hadn’t practiced in over two weeks due to a concussion, and missed some time earlier in Pierson’s girls volleyball season with a sprained ankle. She wasn’t sure at what level her performance would be, but one thing she did know was that she didn’t want to let her team down.
Dryden did anything but. Her 18 kills, four aces, and nine blocks propelled Pierson to a 3-1 win over Oyster Bay Saturday — 16-25, 25-15, 25-11, 25-20 — for the Whalers’ second Long Island Class C title in the last three years. The November 16 appearance at Hauppauge High School was the second time Pierson, which advances to the state tournament semifinals November 23 at Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls, even competed in the cross-county game.
“I really, really did not want to disappoint my team,” Dryden said. “This meant so much to us — I knew how much it meant to the seniors — so I just wanted to help prove we could do it again.”
The junior middle blocker said head coach Donna Fisher kept reassuring her with a “You’ve got this” coming out of every huddle.
“She pushed me, I pushed myself, and there I was,” Dryden said. “A lot of it was being consistent with my hits, getting my timing down, and snapping my wrists every hit. And we kept the energy up.”
“Once she got the nerves out she was on fire,” Fisher said. “You can’t stop her.”
Pierson (14-3) dropped the first set with untimely hits and out-of-bounds kill attempts, which senior outside and middle hitter Sam Cox said had to do with the whole team really being nervous.
“We weren’t really talking; we weren’t fluid enough,” Cox said. “We were in our own heads. As the game progressed we grew more comfortable, got more confident, and did what we knew we could do.”
Cox fed off Dryden’s blocks, tips, and kills in the second set to rack up five Pierson points during a 10-5 Whalers run. Dryden also had two kills sandwiching a Cox ace to pit Pierson out front 15-8 in the third.
“Gigi came back 150 percent,” Cox said. “She was killing it and killing it, she talked, was aggressive. She was insane. She was a star tonight.”
Cox also shined. She finished the game with 21 kills, eight digs, and two aces. After one of her kills, sophomore setter Sofia Mancino (30 assist, six digs) made a diving save to send the ball over, and Cox’s kill was tipped off Oyster Bay (11-7) blockers and into the back of the court to secure a 2-1 lead. The senior also slammed down three straight spikes to tie the fourth set 10-all after Pierson started off down 9-5. Sophomore middle blocker and hitter Grace Brosnan added six kills, four aces, and three blocks in the win.
“We really didn’t get down,” Cox said. “We knew every practice, every game, every team dinner led to this moment, and we got exactly what we wanted. We had high hopes, and knew if we gave it our all we could beat this team, take this game.”
Fisher said she talked to her Whalers about bringing the “I.C.E.” —intensity, concentration, and energy, and added if the team can maintain this kind of performance, can improve on its 1-5 record in the 2017 state tournament. Senior libero Olivia Cassone (12 digs) thinks so, too.
“When we pulled through with that second-set win I thought, ‘We’re going to do this. We can,’” Cassone said. “We were moving our feet and switching up the rotations, came out of every timeout circle-up staying composed, and with GiGi as our light were guided through to the end. This team is going to go far.”
The Whalers had a “whatever it takes” motto this season, and has done just that to get Pierson’s two seniors to one last state showing.
“It was an incredible experience up there and I can’t wait to face those other girls,” Cassone said. “I needed to go back one more time.”