The girls’ gym at Wantagh High School was buzzing last Friday afternoon when the Lady Warriors and defending Nassau Class A champion South Side renewed their rivalry on the volleyball court.
“You could feel the tension as soon as they walked through the door,” Wantagh senior middle hitter Haley Joyce said. “We were looking forward to this match since the season started. It felt like the playoffs. Even warm-ups were intense.”
The hosts prevailed in a back-and-forth Conference I-A showdown that lived up to all the hype, taking a five-set marathon 19-25, 25-15, 25-23, 22-25, 25-11 behind Joyce’s 14 kills and eight apiece from Chelsea Greenberg and Megan Pennino. Wantagh, which won three straight county titles from 2009-11 before last year’s runner-up finish, improved to 7-0. The Lady Cyclones, who were led by Kayla Principato’s 18 kills and Ashley DeTullio’s 12, slipped to 5-2.
“I’ve inherited a great team with chemistry and depth,” Wantagh coach Dan O’Shea said. “We knew this would be a good test, and South Side played tough. We got away from our game a little bit, but we closed it out strong.”
It was the second straight defeat for the young Lady Cyclones, who lost to Long Beach earlier in the week, but coach Cheryl Scalice was pleased with the bounce-back performance. “The Wantagh-South Side rivalry goes back many years,” she said. “I told the girls on the way here this is the kind of volleyball you look forward to playing. They didn’t come out nervous or scared. They played well, just the last game got away.”
The first set was tied when DeTullio, a junior, served five straight points to give the visitors a 13-8 edge they wouldn’t relinquish. Wantagh got within 16-14 after senior Gabi DiMeglio’s service turn brought three points, but Principato and Casey Petrone, South Side’s only seniors, produced some clutch serves and kills to secure the opening set.
The second set was also tied 8-8 until the Lady Warriors slowly pulled away. The defense of senior libero Alyssa Kelly, who was tremendous throughout the match, and serving of DiMeglio and Pennino were the keys.
The next two sets were nothing short of championship-caliber. Wantagh raced to an 8-1 lead in the third set on the strength of junior Cathryn Semendinger’s serving and the hitting of Joyce and Pennino, but Principato and junior Maya Shabir brought the Lady Cyclones back. Shabir’s ace put her team ahead 21-19, but the Lady Warriors scored six of the next eight points and won it on a Greenberg kill.
South Side rallied from a 19-17 deficit to take the fourth set. Juniors Sydney Gabriel, Sarah Mullooly and Allison Palazzolo sparked the comeback, and Pricinpato smashes accounted for three of the last five points.
Senior Ariana Gagliardi set the tone for Wantagh’s runaway win in the decisive set, serving for nine points, including five straight that made it 20-5.
The teams meet again in the regular-season finale at South Side on Oct. 25.
“I think we can take it this year,” Joyce said.