When it comes to girls' volleyball there's history between Ward Melville and Lindenhurst, a history that in recent memory has favored Lindenhurst.
But this season, it was top-seeded Ward Melville who came out on top. First, the Patriots defeated rival Lindenhurst in three sets in a nonleague game in September, and then – with much more at stake – defeated the Bulldogs 3-2 on Monday to capture the Class AA county championship.
For a while on Monday, it looked like momentum favored Lindenhurst, the No. 2 seed in the Class AA tournament. The Bulldogs (14-3) dropped the first set 25-16, but rallied for two straight wins, both with scores of 25-23, to take a 2-1 lead.
Last year, Lindenhurst ousted Ward Melville in the county semifinals, ending the Patriots' streak of nine straight appearances in the county championship game. The year before, Lindenhurst swept Ward Melville in the county championship game.
"We talked about believing in ourselves and believing in our team and not giving up," head coach Charlie Fernandes said. "Things were pretty bleak there for a little while. But we decided that if we could make a few digs on defense and just kind of hang together and not quit on all the things we've done since August, that things would go our way."
Lindenhurst senior Emily Clemens landed three kills, junior Nicolle Leitke served two aces, and senior Rachel Ramirez added another ace as their team took an 8-4 lead in the fourth set, which would have been their gamewinner. But after Ward Melville freshman Alex Stein spiked for a side-out, senior teammate Emily Astarita tallied 8 kills as the Patriots (15-0) went on a 15-5 run, and tied the match at 2 with a 25-14 win.
"They had really good ball control," Astarita said of Lindenhurst. "They were swinging and tipping and scoring points. We just had to overcome that."
Neither team claimed an early lead in the deciding set, though Ward Melville led by as many as four on a shot down the middle by Astarita that put the Patriots up 18-14. But Lindenhurst junior Courtney Brandenberger, senior Julie Catone, and Clemens each landed hits in a 6-4 run that tied the score at 22. The game ended in the Patriots' favor after Astarita put down kills that bumped her team up 23-22 and finally gave them a 25-23 win.
"When push comes to shove, we can hit a volleyball," Fernandes said.
Astarita finished with 38 kills, 20 digs and 3 blocks and Stein finished with 5 kills. Senior Kellie Rizzo had 53 assists and 12 digs, senior Kristen Bendy had 11 kills, and senior Carly Lombardo had 18 digs in the win.
"I'm so excited I don't even know what to say," Astarita said. "We just went out without fear."
Senior Courtney Cleary, who played most of the match with a taped-up hand, called this game "the most important game we've ever played." But now, her team will face Nassau Class AA champion Massapequa – which won its 13th straight county title on Sunday – for the Long Island Championship on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Roslyn High School.
"We always say trust in each other and we'll play the best we can play," Cleary said. "We're just going to play as hard as we can like we did today and we'll pull out a win."