By Gavin Menu and Michael Heller; photography by Michael Heller
Leading into Tuesday’s Suffolk County Class C Championship game against undefeated Stony Brook, Pierson senior Leigh Hatfield talked about using the Lady Bears’ notoriously loud student section to her team’s advantage.
In the end, after dropping the first set to the defending county champion at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood, Pierson was able to write its own narrative and flipped the script from last year’s title game by winning three straight sets to claim the school’s first-ever county championship in girls volleyball.
“They weren’t cheering too much,” Hatfield said with a smile when asked about the Stony Brook fans. “Even after the first set I knew we were going to get the next three. I just had a feeling. We worked so hard and one of the main things is we had to keep the momentum up.”
After losing the first set, 25-13, the Lady Whalers came roaring back and won the second, 25-11. They won the third set, 25-19, and rode the hot service hand of junior Celia Barranco to a 25-13 victory in the fourth set, which iced the championship for the Lady Whalers, who lost their two regular-season meetings against Stony Brook in straight sets.
“It was very nerve-wracking at the end but I’m so happy we won,” said Barranco, who served out the game’s final six points. “It was intense. We practiced our best and we really focused on the plays. We stepped it up a notch.”
Pierson advances in the state tournament and will play the Class C champion from Nassau County in the Long Island Final, which will double as a state regional final, on Saturday, November 11, at 11 a.m. back at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood.
The winner will advance to the state final four in Glens Falls over the weekend of November 18 and 19.
“These girls have been practicing so hard,” head coach Donna Fischer said after Tuesday’s match. “We’ve been changing things up, really working on our defense, and the front row has been working on swinging hard and hitting spots. They were amazing.”
Samantha Cox was moved from the right side to the middle for the championship game, Fischer said, and it paid off in the form of nine kills and two blocks. Hatfield and Hannah Tuma each had six kills, and eighth-grader Sofia Mancino controlled the team’s tempo throughout with 20 assists and nine aces.
“They were a little nervous,” Fischer said about the start of the match, which was a rematch of last year’s county final, won by Stony Brook. “They had to get the jitters out.
“This young group is so united,” Pierson’s coach continued. “They’re really coachable and they’re a really great group of girls.”
And now they’re county champions as well, with at least one more big match to play.