It was hard to hear the faint whisper of a “start the bus” chant early in the Suffolk County Class C girls volleyball outbracket playoff match played inside a packed gymnasium at Pierson High School on Wednesday night.
The chant, usually levied by student sections toward the end of a game when the result has largely been secured, could not have been more premature as the Pierson/Bridgehampton Lady Whalers took on a gritty combined team from Southold and Greenport, which wiggled its way into the postseason with a surge to close out the regular season.
The Lady Whalers (11-3), seeded second in Class C behind top-ranked Mattituck, cruised to a 25-9 victory in the first set on Wednesday, with senior Sam Cox setting the tone early. That coupled with the fact that Pierson beat Southold/Greenport in straight sets twice during the regular season led most in attendance to expect a runaway.
Pierson won the second set, 25-18, but then dropped the next two by scores of 25-19 and 26-24 as momentum shifted to the Greenport/Southold side. That set up a decisive fifth set, which freshman Grace Flanagan served out for a 25-12 victory for Pierson.
The win advanced the Lady Whalers to the county championship game against Mattituck on Wednesday, November 6, at 6 p.m. at Greenport High School.
“We’re just going to keep playing Pierson volleyball,” said sophomore setter Sofia Mancino, who compiled more than 30 assists, according to her coach, on Wednesday. “That’s what we did in the end tonight. Mattituck needs to be ready for that because we’re coming.”
The Lady Whalers were forced to play Wednesday’s game without their towering middle hitter, Gylia Dryden, who injured her head in practice a day earlier. Pierson head coach Donna Fischer said Dryden is expected to miss three days and should be ready for the match against Mattituck.
“She’s huge, she’s an amazing blocker and hitter. She’s also been doing quite well in the back row, “ Fischer said. “So hopefully she’ll be back and ready to go.”
Pierson has just two seniors on its roster in Cox, who led the team with 20 kills against Greenport, and Olivia Cassone, the team’s libero who helps control the back line. But it was younger players like Grace Flanagan, Grace Brosnan, Ashley Weatherwax, Angela Gardella and Sam Grabb who stepped up in Dryden’s absence on Wednesday.
“These younger girls, there’s a tenth grader and a ninth grader with the Graces, and they stepped up and gave it their all. I’m so extremely proud of them,” Cox said after what was her final home volleyball game at Pierson.
“I think we got a little too comfortable in the third set, to be honest,” she added when asked about the third and fourth sets. “In the next game with Mattituck we do need to work on playing to the last point. But I’m really proud of how we persisted and I’m really grateful to have this game today because it really woke us up.”