Belle Smith is the heart of her team, but she’s also its stomach, hungry to get over the Kings Park hump in the Suffolk County finals.
Westhampton Beach’s girls volleyball team has fallen to the Kingsmen at the same point in each of the past five seasons, and head coach Lenny Zaloga’s first six-year varsity player has been around for every single loss. But last year, the 12-4 Hurricanes did something they hadn’t before when they finally won a set over their rivals. And now, they’re even more confident in their abilities this time around.
“I think, and the girls think, we’re stronger this year,” Zaloga said. “Kings Park and East Hampton both lost eight or nine kids each. It gives us hope. But whether they lost kids or not, this team’s pretty good.”
He’s counting on his senior libero, who returns to the volleyball court after leading Team USA to its redemption win over Canada for the Women’s U19 World Lacrosse Championship.
“We know what’s happening at all times when Belle’s on the floor,” Zaloga said. “She makes it much easier for the other kids, because they aren’t running around chasing balls when Belle passes, because her control is so good.”
Taking over blocking duties previously held by Cortina Green and Juliette Seeliger will be senior-sophomore sister duo Ava and Emmie Koszalka, who return to Westhampton after playing at Kellenberg, a private Catholic school in Uniondale. Each are strong hitters, but also maintaining a strong attack will be senior Michelle Kryl, who tops returnees in kills with 104. Senior Amber Troutman and junior Olivia Jayne will once again split time distributing the ball, and junior Ella Donneson, who quickly stepped onto the court for lots of playing time as a sophomore, is also expected to be an offensive threat at right side and as a middle blocker. With so much power at every position, this Hurricane team is going to be balanced.
“We won’t have to force the ball to one person to try to score points,” Zaloga said. “We can score wherever the ball takes us.”
Despite the loss of players though, Kings Park continues to win for a reason. They always find a way to fill the shoes of those who graduated, and East Hampton can’t be overlooked as the league champion from last season.
Westhampton travels to Amityville Wednesday, September 4, for a 4 PM match. The Hurricanes’ home opener will be against Rocky Point Friday, September 6, at 4 PM.
Westhampton will be at Kings Park September 13, and East Hampton September 23.
“As good as we think we are,” Zaloga said, “we have to beat them before we can say it.”
Bonackers’ New Look
East Hampton’s former assistant coach Alex Choi is back, and now leading an almost entirely new Bonackers team.
After the retirement of Kathy McGeehan, who stepped down from the helm after coaching just shy of four decades, and the loss of nine from a 14-1 team, the soon-to-be 27-year-old will have some work to do.
Thankfully, he’s a family friend of McGeehan’s, and was her assistant the last four years following graduating from SUNY Plattsburgh. It doesn’t hurt that’s he’s been playing volleyball all his life, too. He did for Westhampton, actually, graduating in 2010.
“Being the assistant was less demanding because Kathy knows a lot more than I do — she knows how to do everything,” Choi said. “But I was there to correct things that were wrong. And I’ve definitely got my own way of doing things. I’m more of a physical coach, very visual — I like to demonstrate a lot of things. She’d usually tell the players how the drill would go, and I’d demonstrate it.”
What also aids Choi are his three returning senior starters in outside hitter Mikela Junemann, who was League VI Player of the Year last season; Molly Mamay, a libero who might fill in at center; and Zoë Leach, a defensive specialist who could switch to outside hitter, who all saw time during the Bonackers’ undefeated regular season in 2018, before a 3-2 loss to Kings Park in the Class A semifinals.
“They’re very strong players,” Choi said. “They also have strong personalities, and I think they’re really good at communicating what they want and need out of the team during practice. They run a tight ship. They want to get stuff done. They want to be a good team. They’re trying to be the best leaders they can to make the team as successful as it can be.”
Junior Hannah Hartsough, who the coach called a strong outside player, will see more time this year, and sophomore Sorrel Miller will play middle.
“She’s a little short for a middle, but she has very good middle instinct,” Choi said. “She’s good at timing her block. She sees the court well, knows where to put the ball.”
The coach is working with sophomore center and right side Faith Fenelon, who he said is a little unorthodox, but with some training, has potential. New to the varsity team is junior Ariana Islami, a defensive specialist.
“She’s very steady on the court,” Choi said. “I think she’ll be a good addition for the back row.”
East Hampton travels to Kings Park Wednesday, September 4, for a 5:45 PM season-opening match. The Bonackers will head to Sayville after for a 5 PM matchup September 9.