Mental toughness and clutch plays sparked Wantagh to its first state girls' volleyball title in 17 years.
The Lady Warriors dug deep to pull out a rollercoaster five-set win in the state Class A final against Niagara Wheatfield Sunday afternoon that epitomized their historic championship run. The clinching point in a 23-25, 25-22, 20-25, 26-24, 28-26 triumph at Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls took 23 seconds and ended when Katie Steele hit the ball off a defender before bouncing to the floor.
“They were truly unbreakable,” Wantagh head coach Dan O’Shea said after his team rallied from a 2-1 deficit to bring home the program’s first state crown since winning the Class B championship 2001. “They have the biggest heart of anyone I have ever seen.”
The five-set marathon marked the third win in Wantagh’s championship run to be decided in a fifth set. The Lady Warriors punched their first ticket to the state’s since 2010 by capturing the final three sets against Kings Park in the Long Island Class A finals on Nov. 11 after falling behind 2-0. The Nassau County title victory three days earlier was also a five-set nail biter where Wantagh fought off a valiant comeback attempt by Lynbrook to win 25-20, 25-14, 21-25, 23-25, 25-15.
“We worked so hard together,” senior outside hitter Grace Riddle said. “It means so much.”
Riddle went out on top in her final Wantagh match thanks to some crucial kills in the final set in which Wantagh averted near defeat when trailing 26-25 to win the final three points. Wantagh jumped out to a 13-7 lead in the final set and later led 20-15 before Niagara tallied five straight points to create some tense moments down the stretch.
“It means everything I could have imagined,” said Riddle of the championship celebration in which the players mobbed each other at the net. “We fought hard for each other all season.”
Riddle was named to the all-tournament team with fellow senior Kayla Rende. Senior libero Jill Laino garnered the most valuable player award.