All the hard work put in to win a county championship was on the mind of Wantagh senior outside hitter Grace Riddle when she stepped to the service line with a chance to bring home the title.
Riddle recorded two aces and then served on Wantagh’s clinching final point in a marathon five-set win against Lynbrook on Nov. 8 at Farmingdale State College (25-20, 25-14, 21-25, 23-25, 25-15) to cap the program’s first Nassau County Class A crown since 2015. Wantagh’s county title set up another crowning moment three days later when the Lady Warriors captured their first Long Island Class A championship with a dramatic five-set win against Kings Park.
“It was a little nerve-wracking at first because it’s the final points you have to get to win and everything was going through my mind that we have to win and this is something we have been working so hard for,” Riddle said moments after holding up the championship trophy with her teammates. “It felt so great when we won and was such a sweet moment.”
Riddle got another celebratory moment with her Wantagh teammates last Sunday night when the Lady Warriors rallied from two sets down (14-25, 25-27, 25-22, 25-12, 25-18) to knock off Kings Park for the program’s first Long Island title since 2010. Riddle recorded 19 kills, four aces and 10 digs with Jillian Laino chipping in 34 digs. Kayle Rende recorded 39 assists, three aces and 12 digs with Emily Van O’Linda stepping up huge down stretch with four kills in the decisive fifth set.
“From the first day this season, the coaches preached being a family and sticking together,” Wantagh head coach Dan O’Shea said. “When we needed that the most, they stepped up and embraced just that. They never doubted each other once and every single girl came through in the clutch.”
Wantagh was on the opposite end of emotions two years ago when after dropping a five-set heartbreaker in the 2016 county finals to Floral Park. The Lady Warriors led by Riddle’s 16 kills and Laino’s 44 assists helped assure that this year’s county title match went differently when Lynbrook was riding all the momentum after rallying from a 20-16 deficit in the fourth set.
“The one big thing we have been working on all year is not having fear,” Wantagh assistant coach Susanne Hoffman said. “In the beginning of the year we had a little fear and I think by the fifth game we let that fear out and finally went for it.”
Early on Wantagh appeared poised to capture the county title in quick fashion after a commanding 25-14 win in the second set put the Warriors up 2-0. Lynbrook dug in to win the third set 25-21 after Wantagh’s Alyssa Albanese had served six points in a row late in the game to cut the lead to 22-21. The Owls then won a dramatic fourth set 25-23 with a kill by junior Sara Bahri setting up the decisive fifth game.
“They did a great job and I’m so proud of all of them,” said Lynbrook head coach Suzanne Amberge, whose team was comprised mainly of juniors and sophomores. “It was a great season.”
Wantagh will next look to conquer all of New York when it travels to Glen Falls this weekend for the state semifinals. The Lady Warriors dominated in the playoffs en route to the county finals with sweeps against Bethpage, Hewlett and Mineola. Lynbrook put them to the test, but the team responded when put to the test in the match’s fifth and deciding set when that championship trophy was on the line.
“The biggest thing we said to the girls was, no regrets, “Hoffman said. “We said to put your heart and soul into it and give it everything you have.”