South Side makes early statement


The South Side girls’ volleyball team is aiming for the highest goal after an 11-2 record last season and loss in the Nassau County finals. 

It has a new coach in veteran Steve Mariano but has not missed a beat in romping to a 4-0 start – all in straight-set victories. It won all 12 sets so far in routs of Manhasset, Mepham, Long Beach and Mineola.

Mariano was expecting his toughest test Sept. 21 versus Mineola but the Cyclones eked out all three sets – 25-22, 25-18, 25-13. “We successfully attacked from all areas across the net and served strong,’’ Mariano said.

 After not losing any starters from last season’s powerhouse, the new coach is brimming with bravado. He boasts six seniors.

“This team has the ability to go further than the finals if they really work hard and stay driven,’ Mariano said. “The team is out for redemption. They know what their ability level is. This team has a ton of potential to go far.’’

 Far as in the Long Island championship and states. Mariano has such experience. A coach on various levels for 15 years, his latest stint was at Massapequa, where he guided the Chiefs boys to a L.I. title in 2012. 

South Side is solid throughout the lineup but nobody’s star has shone brighter than junior middle hitter Abby Magness. “She has a great attitude,’ Mariano said. “A really great work ethic that’s contagious to the rest of the girls.’’

And the 6-foot-1 standout’s statistics are otherworldly. Beyond 30 kills and 40 block kills in the first four matches, Magness’ hitting percentage is .600. The coach called that an “insane’’ number, believes it could be highest rate in the county.

“Anything over .300 is great,” Mariano said. “She’s my most consistent, very efficient hitter. She’s a presence at the net and makes people alter their shots.’’

The senior right-side setter, Keira Birk, is starting to look as dangerous. In the Long Beach sweep on Sept. 20, 5-11 Birk registered 5 block/kills, 5 aces, 9 assists and 11 digs in just three sets.

“She had a really nice all-around game,’’ Mariano said. 

Then Birk almost bettered that effort against Mineola (14 assists, 11 digs, 5 kills, 2 aces) in what the coached called “another incredible performance.”

Senior outside hitter Sofia Vargas is another elder statesman who gives the Rockville Centre school depth and she was a big performer against Mineola with 9 kills and 11 digs.

 And the Cyclones have a star libero in Delia Ryan, who wears the off jersey with pride. Ryan has 40 digs and 8 aces.  

Cate Bradley is also a steady rock and posted 60 assists in the first four. The roster has five sophomores, including one starter in Keira Mullaney, who excels as a passer and defense. 

Mariano hadn’t coached in 10 years as he looked to raise his family. “I took a hiatus,’’ he said. “This is my return.’’

And it might turn out to be a glorious one. 

 “They’re a driven group of girls who are genuinely great kids and extremely coachable,’’ Mariano said. “They just soak up the feedback and apply it to the game.’’