For the first time in the five times Westhampton Beach’s girls volleyball team lost to Kings Park in the Suffolk County finals, the team did something it hadn’t been able to do before — win a set.
The Hurricanes (12-4) have kept some sets close in years past against the eight-straight county title winners, and did so again November 8 when it fell 3-1 at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood. After two close sets, which they lost by scores of 26-24 and 25-22, the Hurricanes won the third set by a 25-21 tally before Kings Park rebounded in the fourth set, 25-16, to clinch the match.
Kings Park (15-3) made several service errors and miscues, and juniors Amber Troutman and Michelle Kryl’s block put Westhampton up 20-15 out of a Kingsmen timeout.
Seniors Cortina Green and Juliette Seeglier, and junior Belle Smith made big saves during a long volley that gave the Hurricanes a 23-17 lead, and Kings Park grabbed the next on a delayed reaction before Westhampton made it game point. The Kingsmen took the next four points, a couple on some unlucky bounces after blocks, before a hit outside back court gave the Hurricanes their first set win, 25-21.
“Not only do they get here every year, but they come ready to play every year,” said Smith (41 digs, three aces and two kills) of Kings Park. “We get a little nervous each time, but then remember that in here, the net is the same height, the court is the same size. Once you’re here a few times that starts to click for you. After a few years you’re sick of losing, and you come here and you fight harder and you want it more.”
Head coach Lenny Zaloga liked the way his libero threw herself all over the court for the ball, even though a few of her passes weren’t as tight to the net as he would have liked.
“It’s great to have her, but sometimes we rely too much on her, so we don’t go for balls that we should, because we think she’s going to get them,” he said of his All-State player who made her fifth county appearance as a junior, is the No. 2 lacrosse recruit in the country, and was named All-County in basketball. “But I’ll still take her,” he said, laughing.
There’s a reason the Hurricanes make it to the county finals every year, and it’s having girls step up to fill the shoes of quality players lost to graduation, like the girls did this year at center, middle blocker and outside hitter.
“Juliette stepped up and took over Shannon Hewlett’s spot, and that’s what you hope to see,” Zaloga said. “After the year that Cortina Green had last year you’d hope she wants to continue to get better, and she did. Hopefully next year someone will take over for them.”
Green finished with a team-high 13 kills, 14 digs, three aces and two blocks. Seeglier had six kills, 16 digs and an ace.
“There was never a time when they let up, so we always had to be on our toes,” Seeglier said. “There were some times we let up a little bit, but we always caught ourselves.”
Junior Amber Troutman added 18 assists, five digs, four aces, two kills and a block in the loss, and sophomore Ella Donneson had two blocks. Because Westhampton didn’t spend a lot of time practicing blocking, especially because since losing junior Marley Merrihew at the beginning of the season with an injury, many of the attempts resulted in unlucky touches that slammed out of bounds or dropped on the Hurricanes’ side of the net.
“The last four years we didn’t play well. This year we played well and they beat us, so I’m not that upset about it,” Zaloga said. “We didn’t play poorly, they just outplayed us, and that’s what happens.”
Smith said winning the third set is encouraging, calling it “baby steps.”
“It’s tough going out with a loss, but no one expected us to make it this far,” Seeglier said. “I’m incredibly proud that we got here and we put up a good fight. Maybe next year it’ll be two, maybe three,” she added smiling, “so who knows.”