“We did it in three.”
Westhampton Beach’s boys volleyball teammates surprised themselves, and even their coach, with their 3-0 blanking of East Hampton October 17.
“I told them it’s going to be at least a four-set game, that someone’s going to falter in some way,” Westhampton head coach Jackie Reed said. “They were smiling from ear to ear — they feel on top of the world right now. I think, in a way, they were shocked, but I also think they expect to do well at this point. They know they’re good, they know how to play as a team, and they know how to perform.”
The Hurricanes (9-4 overall, 8-3 in Division II) didn’t just edge out the Bonackers to secure a strong playoff position, they bested their opponent 25-13, 25-17, 25-23. Junior Ryan Barnett led Westhampton with 12 kills and six digs, and sophomore Daniel Haber added 10 kills and five aces. Senior setter Blake Busking had 29 assists and three aces.
“I think we played better than expected. It was a game up in the air and we executed,” Haber said. “They’re a good team, but we got the better of them today.”
Haber switched from middle to right side to match up against East Hampton’s (7-5, 7-4) outside blockers.
“I was feeling pretty good out there,” he said. “They weren’t closing their block a lot, and whenever they did that, they’d give me enough line so I could roll the line.”
Barnett was also looking to utilize the line shots, although he was up against some strong East Hampton blockers in Clark Miller, Andy Ngo, and William Leach.
“I was extremely surprised at those blocks and just how hard they were,” Reed said. “That’s hard to do. That ball is coming fast.”
“We didn’t want to hit in his direction,” Barnett said of Miller. “He’s a great player, and we didn’t want to get him going on a run. We played positively and we always got the ball over the net.”
Miller had back-to-back kills in the second set to keep East Hampton alive, trailing 21-15, but Barnett extinguished the streak with a kill of his own. Reed said she was shocked specifically by what Miller was able to do on offense.
“What I had in my notes was that he was the best blocker and that he jumps high. In our tournament, I did not see him attacking like that at all,” she said. “He wasn’t on my radar. I did not realize he was that good. Hopefully one of our guys can simulate what he’s doing in practice, because he’s going to hurt us.”
But she liked the way Barnett, especially, didn’t let the blocks get to him.
“I think that happening in the beginning of the year would’ve shut a couple people down,” Reed said. “Everyone gets an error, but how you react to it is how your team is going to feel moving forward. Ryan is going to get his kills, but I think he’s doing a lot better job at shaking off the big blocks. I think he’s growing every single day.”
Barnett was blocked early in the first set by Ngo to close the gap, 4-3, and both teams traded points until the score was 9-6. Westhampton tallied four straight points twice, and Barnett added his second kill before earning his second and third ace of the set to put the Hurricanes out front 22-12. After his out-of-bounds serve, East Hampton missed the ball on attack, stepped over the line, and double-hit the ball to hand it to Westhampton.
“There’s some stuff here we have to build off of and stuff we have to work on, but we’ve got time,” East Hampton head coach Joshua Brussell said. “Barnett’s jump-serve is awesome and we blocked him and blocked him and blocked him, but missed the tips. It’s about mental toughness. Blake Busking also makes good choices.”
The coach said he’s had recent issues with guys being out sick, but said it doesn’t take away from the strong competition that is Westhampton. His Bonackers also struggled with timing, missing several attack attempts, and hitting into the net on low contact.
“I keyed in on the outsides, and because we serve aggressively, for some reason they couldn’t get the ball tight to the outside, which is something traditionally the East Hampton way, so they couldn’t swing — they were all tipping,” Reed said. “Being able to read the court, read your hitter, read their defense, see where the holes are — that’s a portion of what we’re doing. They’re also buying into the communication. It’s a huge factor. Everyone is setting each other up for success.”
Hank Scherer made five kills and had seven digs, and Matt Lambert added six digs for Westhampton in the win.
“We beat them mentally,” Haber said. “We’re expecting to see them again, and this gives us that advantage in our minds knowing we’ve got the better of them, but we’re still going to have to fight for this.”
Reed said she’s expecting things to be completely different next time around, when the two teams most likely face off in the county tournament.
“I know Josh is a very good coach. I know he’s going to do things, change things in his lineup that will impact our switches with them, and who is up against whom,” Reed said. “He’s going to do the same thing I am, and go back and look and identify where our holes are. He’s going to analyze it. We’re both great teams. I think whoever is having a good day is going to be the winner at that point. I can’t say who will come out on top, but I do know it’s going to be an exciting match.”