By Christine Sampson; photography by Michael Heller
The Pierson/Bridgehampton girls volleyball team had been to this arena before — to face undefeated Stony Brook in the Suffolk County Class C championship game a few days earlier — and found itself in a similar situation on Saturday, after dropping the first set to East Rockaway, the Class C champion from Nassau County, just as it did against Stony Brook on Tuesday.
But this Pierson team was not ready to call it a season. A group effort across the board allowed the Lady Whalers to come back and win the next three sets to earn their first-ever Long Island Class C Championship — and a spot in the New York State Class C Final Four in Glens Falls next weekend.
Team members were elated after their win, which came via sets of 23-25, 25-21, 26-24 and 25-13.
“It’s amazing. We’re on top of the world. I don’t think it’s registered yet,” said sophomore Samantha Cox, who had four kills, six aces and two blocks.
“We had good competition, but we practiced so hard and always believed in ourselves,” said Sofia Mancino, the team’s setter, an eighth grader who had 15 assists.
“I’m so unbelievably happy. I’m overwhelmed with joy right now,” said sophomore Olivia Cassone, who had seven assists and too many digs to count.
“We’ve never felt on cloud nine like this before. It’s awesome,” said senior Leigh Hatfield, who had eight assists and 12 kills.
Pierson will compete in pool play on Saturday morning at the Glens Falls Civic Center against three other Class C schools from across the state, including Voorheesville, Millbrook and Portville. The Lady Whalers will face Portville at 9:30 a.m., followed by Millbrook and Voorheesville soon thereafter. They will play two games against each opponent, for a total of six games, with the top two teams returning on Sunday for a traditional five-set match at noon to determine the state champion.
Against East Rockaway on Saturday, three of Hatfield’s kills came during a crucial third set that saw Pierson climb back from a seven-point deficit to win 26-24. She landed a sweet shot to force a side-out at 21-23 and junior Hannah Tuma followed her lead to make it 22-23. Junior Aziza El’s smooth serving was key down the stretch, and Cox ended the tense set in Pierson’s favor with a service ace.
In the fourth set, Mancino’s steady serves forced a handful of East Rockaway errors, and junior Celia Barranco landed three forceful hits in quick succession to help Pierson pull away. East Rockaway never got within more than four points of Pierson, and Hatfield, Cox and Tuma took over to close out the set with eight straight points.
Barranco finished with 11 assists, four kills and two blocks, Tuma totaled six kills and two blocks and Gylia Dryden tallied three blocks.
“I think it was a total team effort,” coach Donna Fischer said after the game. “They can do anything they put their minds to. I feel so proud of them. We were just here, so they knew what to expect. I told them to come play with fire like you did on Tuesday, and you’ll be all good.”
The Pierson athletes said they are committed to giving it their all during the next week’s practices leading up to the state final four.
“We are going to work harder than ever before,” Hatfield said. “We have to give it 110 percent, just like we play.”