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Conference title a first for Malverne

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By late September the writing was on the wall. Early losses to a pair of league rivals meant Malverne’s girls’ volleyball team would either win out, or likely be shut out of the playoffs.

On Oct. 24, after critical adjustments, the Lady Mules had earned a final chance to prove their case – having gone unbeaten through a must-win second half of the season to face first-place host West Hempstead in a probable Conference AA/B/C-3-title showdown. The long road back to contention had led to a deciding fifth set against the surging Lady Rams, who had just clawed back from the brink to win the fourth, seizing the contest’s momentum.

“I was nervous when we couldn’t finish in that fourth set,” Malverne coach Danish Nadeem said. “We fought so hard to win the third that our energy dipped a little. I guess at that moment I was more worried than the girls were.”

The fourth-year skipper’s angst was soon quelled, as Malverne (14-2) regrouped to take the fifth set 25-15 – dispatching a deposed West Hempstead (12-4) and, in a league finale six days later, Freeport (1-9), to claim its first conference championship in 27 years. Malverne, seeded eighth, moves on to face No. 1 seed Seaford in the first round of the Class B playoffs Nov. 7 at Manhasset.

The Lady Mules losses – to Clarke (13-3) on Sept. 9, and West Hempstead Sept. 27 – had put the team’s back to the wall at an early phase, but also may have provided the key to Malverne’s second-half march, as Nadeem said the game films were eye-openers showing paths to avenge in the rematches, which would both occur on Malverne’s home court.

“The films showed what we need to change,” Nadeem said. “We were prepared when we played those teams again, this time at home.”

In downing Clarke 3-2 on Oct. 7, Malverne employed a serve-receive scheme that made senior outside hitter Alanna Jocelon the focal point, while in its win over West Hempstead, Malverne would reposition junior libero Dana Vilardi – team leader with 140 digs – to counter specific hitters. “I saw that we needed to get Alanna involved more on receiving,” Nadeem said. “She’s our best on serve-receive. By moving Dana around, we were able to stop West Hempstead’s amazing hitters. She can adjust better than anyone I’ve coached.”

Malverne’s attack, apparently, needed no adjustments. All-Conference setter Nicolette Conserve had a game-high 22 assists against West Hempstead – adding to her eventual league-leading total of 233. The senior team captain also tops the conference in aces with 70 (second most in Nassau), ahead of Jocelon at No. 2 with 58. Senior middle hitter Tiffany Prewitt (team best 90 kills) led Malverne with seven kills in the conference-lead-swinging contest.

“Nicolette’s been everything we’ve needed her to be,” Nadeem said. “Tiffany’s super-aggressive and knows how to place the ball very well.”

Added Nadeem: “The girls all put in the work and prepared, and that’s what we’ll be doing for Seaford. We’ll show up ready to play.”