Rivals take it to five sets

Pierson Girls Volleyball Edged By Mattituck




Senior outside and middle hitter Samantha Cox spikes the ball. Independent/Gordon M. Grant

Samantha Cox is hoping to see Mattituck again real soon.

That’s because despite the senior outside and middle hitter slamming down a dominating 28 kills, and her Pierson girls volleyball team diving all over the court for the ball Friday, the Whalers’ efforts were outdone in a 3-2 loss to Mattituck.

“I think it was one of the best games we’ve ever played as a team,” Cox said of the 26-28, 25-17, 25-19, 19-25, 18-25 defeat. “The energy was so high. We were so set on this goal, and even though we came up a little bit short of that, we had fire within us the whole entire game.”

She wasn’t kidding. With a boisterous homecoming crowd to back them up in a battle of undefeateds September 20, the Whalers (5-1 overall, 3-1 in League VIII) came out with the courage of conviction, and bounced back from a 21-15 deficit, from set point at 24-21, and from a 24-all tie before taking a one-point lead at 25-24 and 26-25. Unfortunately for Pierson, a violation and a Viki Harkin kill (17 total) closed it out in the Tuckers’ favor. Had the Whalers won, they could have potentially swept Mattituck.

Sophomore setter Sofia Mancino dives to save the ball. Independent/Gordon M. Grant

Pierson tried to put up a big double block to counter Harkin and Charlotte Keil (19 kills), but it proved difficult with junior middle blocker Gylia Dryden out with a sprained ankle.

“She’s phenomenal at the net,” Pierson head coach Donna Fischer said.

One thing Cox (who also had six aces, seven digs, and four assists) liked that her team did do was stay united. Even after a tough-to-take first-set loss, the Whalers didn’t get down on themselves, and stormed back from a 7-7 tie in the second to take a commanding 21-14 lead on a Cox kill.

“She’s amazing,” sophomore setter Sofia Mancino (18 assists, six digs) said. “She works hard every single day. She never gives up. She puts her all in all the time.”

Each team proved that it belonged at the top of the League VIII. Pierson took the third set thanks to four aces — three consecutive — by Lilith Bastek-Ochoa (10 digs, two kills), a Cox tip, and a Cox push, all en route to an 8-1 start. Cox finished the set with six kills and an ace. The Whalers also picked up on the dumps and tips Mattituck (6-0, 5-0) was throwing at them.

The Tuckers scored eight straight points in the fourth out of a 15-15 knot, but thanks in large part to capitalizing on Whalers errors, went on an 8-1 run out of an 11-11 tie in the fifth.

Cox said going against as tough a competitor as Mattituck made going to five sets that much more difficult.

Senior libero Olivia Cassone keeps a volley going. Independent/Gordon M. Grant

“It’s always tiring when you get to that fifth set,” she said. “You want to be there, but you also think you should’ve ended this earlier. There were a lot of emotions, a lot of fire, a lot of adrenaline, and you just have to put everything on the line and give it all you have.”

Both teams tried to ramp up the aggressiveness as the game wore on, but that only led to more errors on each side. “When they started to make a few mistakes, I think that got in their heads,” Fischer said.

Mancino agreed. But her coach pointed to not only her senior leaders in Cox and senior libero Olivia Cassone (eight digs, two aces, one kill), the only two to graduate from the roster, but to her sophomore, who played with a sprained wrist, and cut her elbow and knee as she threw herself all over the court for the ball.

“She’s unbelievable. She’s tough as nails,” Fischer said. “I don’t know what we’d do without her. I love her spirit and her effort.”

Mattituck senior outside hitter Rylie Skrezec had nine aces in her team’s win. Pierson freshman right side hitter Grace Flanagan had seven digs, four kills, two assists, and two aces.

Fischer and Mancino are already looking forward to seeing Mattituck in the postseason. The coach and Cox said the team is working off its season motto to get there.

“They’ve been working really hard,” Fischer said, “Doing ‘whatever it takes.’”

“Now we have something to work for,” Mancino said. “We’re going to come out even stronger.”

Cox took it one step further. “I want it to be tomorrow,” she said of facing Mattituck. “I’m ready.”

desiree@indyeastend.com