Smithtown East's Megan Meadows stepped off the bench and into the game in time to make one of the biggest plays of the night: a hard kill that ended a back-and-forth match in favor of the Bulls, 3-2, against Ward Melville in a nonleague girls' volleyball game on Friday.
Smithtown had an 8-3 lead early in the deciding set, but Ward Melville bounced back into the game on the strength of kills from Courtney Cleary, Emily Astarita, and Meagan Murtagh. With Ward Melville leading 24-23, the Bulls put up a successful block to tie the game – but senior outside hitter Delia Phillips came down a little too hard. The injured Phillips, who had racked up 40 kills in the game, had to be carried off the court.
Meadows, the only senior to not start in the game, checked in to replace Phillips. The teams traded points a few more times before Meadows took what would be a game-ending swing, and Smithtown East had a 27-25 win.
"We preach to always be ready and we're pushing them constantly in practice just like our starters," Smithtown East coach George Alaria said. "Our starters get more reps, but we continue pushing [our bench] mentally and physically. We're proud of her."
Smithtown East (3-0) won the first set 25-13 before Ward Melville (2-1) came back to take the next two both by scores of 25-23. In the fourth set, Smithtown East held a 10-2 lead which they never relinquished, eventually winning it 25-15.
"I think we made some unforced errors in game four," Ward Melville coach Charlie Fernandes said. "We had our chances. I wouldn't want anything other than those swings we took at the end."
And swing they did. Ward Melville's attack brought the best out of Smithtown East's senior libero, Maggie Engellener, who totaled 91 digs in the game.
"They're always good. They're tall, they're big, they're strong," Engellener said. "You shouldn't expect anything different from them. ... You've got to know what they're going to bring."
There's history between these two teams: Ward Melville defeated Smithtown East in the 2009 county championship game, then beat them in a county semifinal in 2010. In both of those games, a Smithtown East player suffered a severe injury. The teams are so familiar with each other that the players know each other by name. But because of that history, there's respect, too.
"They get the best out of us," Alamia said, "and we get the best out of them."
Notes & Quotes: Each of the two head coaches used the words "class act" to describe the other team following the game ... Junior hitter Tricia Baxley added 16 kills for Smithtown East ... Senior libero Hania Oleszak had 28 digs for Ward Melville in her first start since moving to the U.S. from Poland.