By Gavin Menu; photography by Michael Heller
The big stage inside Cool Insuring Arena can be daunting for even the most experienced of volleyball teams. The pool play competition in Glens Falls on Saturday, which determined who would return on Sunday to play for a New York State Class C girls volleyball championship, featured three programs that make regular appearances in the state tournament.
And then there was Pierson/Bridgehampton, the rookie of the bunch, which advanced to its first ever final four after winning Suffolk County and Long Island Class C titles.
But the Lady Whalers run came to an end Saturday morning as they finished 1-5 in pool play against Portville, Millbrook and Voorheesville inside the storied walls of the former Glens Falls Civic Center, bringing an end to the career of team’s lone senior, Leigh Hatfield, who said later that the future for Pierson volleyball is brighter than ever.
“I could barely sleep last night. We were just thinking about volleyball,” Hatfield said afterward. “I think we played really hard. I feel so special and honored to be part of the Pierson volleyball team. This was just a warm-up for next year, even though I’m not going to be here.”
Portville, from Section VI in central New York, was the tournament’s most dominant Class C team and swept through pool play with a perfect 6-0 mark before knocking off Millbrook, 3-1, in Sunday’s final. It was Portville’s third state championship in four seasons, but its first as a Class C school. Millbrook was making its second final four appearance in three years and Voorheesville went to states four straight years from 2010 to 2013.
Pierson, in contrast, had never even won a league title before last season, and the program won its first county championship this year. After being swept by Portville and Millbrook, both of which featured immensely talented outside hitters, the Lady Whalers faced Voorheesville with nothing but bragging rights on the line since both teams had already been eliminated from playing on Sunday.
Behind a strong service game from sophomore Samantha Cox, Pierson won its first game of the tournament, 25-21, only to split its meeting with the Blackbirds, who came away with their only win by a score of 25-18 in the final game of the season for both teams.
“When we come back here next year we’re going to be aware of the court and this is not going to be new for us,” said Cox, who will return to lead next year’s team with players like Sophie Borzilleri, Olivia Cassone, Hannah Tuma, Aziza El, Celia Barranco, Gylia Dryden and Sofia Mancino, the team’s eighth-grade setter. “When we walked in this was huge and new, but like Leigh said, hopefully it’s just a warm up.”
Pierson head coach Donna Fischer said there were some nerves before Saturday’s pool play, but that she was proud with how her girls responded.
“We talked about how the court dimensions here are the same as the dimensions back home, and the height of the net is the same,” Fischer said. “These girls gave it their all and I’m so proud of them — beyond proud. We made history.”