Although it was the season opener for the Pierson/Bridgehampton girls volleyball team when it hosted Mattituck on Friday, September 3, the match was more of a milestone for the Pierson athletic program and school community in general.
It marked the first time in 578 days — or a year and seventh months — since Pierson welcomed indoor spectators, both home and away, for a sporting event since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The last time spectators graced the Pierson court was February 3, 2020, when the Pierson boys basketball team defeated Greenport, 67-41, to officially clinch the League VIII title.
Although the Whalers lost, 3-1, to the Tuckers on Friday, it was, by most accounts, a successful return for spectators. Pierson’s players — who played in front of empty stands for a condensed fall season this spring — certainly appreciated their return.
“I feel like the nerves are definitely up, but at some point, once you start playing, it gets exhilarating and your adrenaline starts to rush and it’s go time,” Pierson senior Angela Gardella said, after the match.
“Especially with a Pierson/Bridgehampton crowd,” Bridgehampton senior Ayanna El added. “They’re always ready to encourage us, so it’s always nice having that support and it’s always a lot of fun having them. [And] we trust everyone to be safe and responsible.”
The match started as it was expected to, with both teams trading barbs to start. Mattituck won a tight, hard-fought first set, 25-21, only to see Pierson turn around and take the second set, 25-20. It looked like the match was heading to be one of those back-and-forth, knockout-drag out five-set matches that both teams have played in recent seasons, but the Tuckers, to their credit, changed things up and took the third and fourth sets handily, 25-9, 25-15.
Pierson head coach Donna Fischer was a little disappointed with the loss, particularly the final two sets, but gave credit to Mattituck.
“I think they played smart,” she said. “They switched it up; they were doing some nice pushes and some tips.” She added that she thought her team, “got a little nervous, and when it got tight like that, I think it got into their heads. They have to read the pushes, they have to cover, and they can’t miss serves.”
The players feel like they’ll be ready the next time they play Mattituck, which won’t be until October 1.
“It’s also a matter of this is our first game,” El said. “We saw a little bit of mistakes but we know right now what we’re going to have to fix and what we’re going to have to work on. We have to keep our energy up.
“The first set was so neck-and-neck, it felt like when we were playing them back in 2019,” Gardella said. “All of a sudden, they start to pick up their pace and they’re like, okay, we’re playing tricky now, we’re finding the holes, we know where everybody is now. They saw everything, they tracked everything down and they put the ball where we weren’t.”
Fischer, like her players, was excited to see the spectators back in the gym and hopes it can stay like that going forward.
“I’m thrilled. I think everybody did their due diligence with the masks and I hope it stays okay because the delta variant is out there, COVID is still real,” she said. “But I would really love for it to continue and I only see things going up from here.”