Ousted Upstate, Whaler Girls Volleyballers Eye Another Run

The Whalers were on the verge of playing in the state Class C Final Four at the Glens Falls Civic Center
With only one senior on this year’s team, Pierson-Bridgehampton could well make another trip to Glens Falls in the near future. Jack Graves

When Aziza El, the 5-foot-9-inch middle hitter, went down with a rolled ankle near the end of Friday’s girls volleyball practice session at Pierson High School, Donna Fischer, Pierson-Bridgehampton’s coach, rolled her eyes, as if to say, “Oh no.”

As well she should, for the Whalers were on the verge, for the first time in the program’s history, of playing in the state Class C Final Four at the Glens Falls Civic Center.

El’s ankle injury — it was swollen when the team arrived at Glens Falls, though she insisted on playing anyway — undoubtedly played a part in Pierson’s 1-5 record in Saturday’s pool play, though Fischer wasn’t saying afterward that that was the only reason the team hadn’t made it to the second day. Yes, the Civic Center was cavernous, and yes, the crowd noise was disconcerting — not to mention the fact that frenzied AA and A games were being contested on adjacent courts — but it was largely the up-tempo game that is played at the state level, she said, a pace requiring more rapid physical and mental agility, that did the Whalers in.

El did start, in the first set of pool play with Portville, the eventual champion, but after serving out and — obviously bothered by ankle pain — netting a hit, Fischer sat her, replacing the Bridgehampton junior with her 6-foot freshman schoolmate, Gylia Dryden. El played only sporadically after that. 

“I even recorded crowd noise to try to get them used to it,” Fischer said, with a laugh, on the team’s return. “I’m hoping we’ll be back next year, and better prepared. I’m so proud of the way we played, so proud that we came this far. We did make history by winning our first county and Long Island and regional championships, and we’re only losing one senior [the captain, and valedictorian, Leigh Hatfield, who’s applied to Harvard, the University of Virginia, and Brown]. It will be different next year. Leigh said as much in her interviews with Newsday and The Sag Harbor Express.”

Samantha Cox, her sophomore lights-out hitter, made the all-tournament team, Fischer said, and more postseason awards will be announced, she said, at the county volleyball coaches dinner Monday.

Meanwhile, while she’d like all of her charges to play travel ball — two of them, Cox and Olivia Cassone, the libero, were recently accepted by The Blaze, based in Center Moriches — none, including her eighth-grade setter, Sofia Mancino, who played travel ball last year, are at the moment.

When told that Kathy McGeehan, East Hampton’s veteran coach, who always fields highly competitive teams, had only one go upstate in all of her years of coaching, Fischer said she appreciated the fact. “Kathy made sure I knew how special this was,” she said.

She had told Cox and Cassone she’d drive them back and forth to practices, said Fischer, who used to assist McGeehan with the East End Waves and Joe Siegel with another travel team, at Sportime, that dissipated.

Looking ahead, she can expect next fall to have as returnees, along with El, Cox, Cassone, Dryden, and Mancino, Sophie Borzilleri, a junior outside hitter, Celia Barranco, a junior outside hitter, and Hannah Tuma, a junior middle hitter. “I’ve also got three good jayvee players [Lucy Beeton, a ninth grader, Lilith Bastek, a ninth grader, and Caleigh Hochstedler, a sophomore] coming up.”

She added the latter three to her squad for the playoffs. She “felt terrible,” she said, that she didn’t get them in in the team’s final set with Voorheesville (which also finished with a 1-5 record).

Asked if there had been a parade, Fischer, whose team arrived back in the Harbor at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, said there hadn’t been, “but we did get a parade when we won the county championship, and when we left, at 8 o’clock Friday morning, the entire school came out to say goodbye on Pierson’s hill.”

She would definitely give some clinics in the off-season, and maybe even start a travel team, she said in signing off.

Samantha Cox, Pierson-Bridgehampton’s lights-out sophomore hitter, made the all-Class C tournament team, her coach, Donna Fischer, said. Jack Graves