On Monday evening, the volleyball team turned in a historic performance in a 3-0 win over the Trinity School in the opening round of the NYSAIS State Tournament. The victory was the team’s first State tournament victory in its history and its first win over an Ivy League opponent.
After dispatching Long Island Lutheran, 3-0, in last week’s PSAA Championship for their 19th consecutive sweep versus PSAA competition, the Bears turned their sights to a higher level of competition against the Ivy League’s 3rd place finisher. It was a match they were prepared for thanks to an strong non-league schedule that included Smithtown East, Smithtown West, and St. Anthony’s. They also had the confidence forged from one of the greatest five-year runs in the history of Stony Brook Athletics. This team knows pressure, is comfortable in big moments, and knows how to finish, three things they displayed in a near perfect performance.
As the team bus lurched its way through the final stretch of Manhattan traffic, coach Allie Kennedy shared the keys to victory: communicating, focusing on serves, shaking off mistakes, and celebrating points. There would be plenty of moments to celebrate over the next hour.
Trinity hit it long to give the Bears the opening point, but rebounded to take a slight edge. Then, after three consecutive aces, the Tigers grabbed a 7-2 advantage, but the Brook never looked overwhelmed. A service error gave the serve back to the Bears and Trinity failed to return Ava McCormick’s offering as the visitors closed to 4-7. Lilly Keegan then slammed a spike off the deck and Gillian Bernier followed with a kill to pull within 6-8. Consecutive service errors for each team and a Tiger kill left the Bears behind 7-10, when they unleashed a 7-0 run to surge into the lead. Bernier began the run by hitting a kill off of a blocker. An Ella Middlekauff ace followed a Tigers’ double-touch which knotted the set at 10-10. A McCormick block, the first of 28 for the Bears in the match, gave the Brook their first lead at 11-10 and prompted a timeout from Trinity.
Out of the break, three consecutive errors from the Tigers gave the Brook a 14-10 margin. A Niamh Scanlon dunk at the net (15-12) and a McCormick kill (16-12) added to the Bear lead before another Tiger double-touch gave the Bears their biggest advantage at 17-12, but five straight Trinity points on two dunks, an ace, a kill, and a Stony Brook error brought the set back to a 17-17 deadlock. Trinity’s best server then found the net on her first offering to give the Bears the lead back, but the squads stood at a 20-20 standstill just a few points later. Consecutive Trinity errors gave the Brook a two-point edge they would not relinquish as Trinity burned another timeout. The Bears found the net out of the stoppage, but a Keegan kill and an out-of-bounds strike from Trinity following a long rally gave the Brook a 24-21 edge. The Tigers responded with a kill, but McCormick ended the opening period with a touch kill between two defenders as the Bears took the set, 25-22, and loudly announced that they had come to play.
Each squad traded early points in set two for a 2-2 tie, but when Trinity’s best server found the net, the Bears took a 3-2 lead they would maintain for the rest of the set. Two more Tiger errors followed, then a free ball kill from Bernier and a Lily Middlekauff ace as the Bears took a 7-3 advantage. Trinity then pulled back within a point twice, but both times the Bears came up with a play to keep them at bay thanks to a Keegan kill and another Ella Middlekauff ace that prompted yet another Trinity timeout. The Tigers closed back to within 9-11, but from there the Bear lead would only grow, thanks to a 7-1 run ignited by a Bernier roll shot. Keegan followed with a spike and Bernier served up an ace after a Trinity ball rolled along the top of the net, but refused to fall over. The Tigers’ best server found the net again on her first serve and Trinity could not return McCormick’s ensuing serve to give the Brook a 17-10 edge and force another Trinity timeout. Trinity hit the net on the next play, but scored the next two points to pull within striking distance at 12-18. From there, the Bears emphatically put the game away.
Lily Middlekauff followed a kill with a serve Trinity could not return. A Keegan spike and a Lily Middlekauff ace gave the Brook the first double-digit lead of the match at 22-12. A Stony Brook service error followed, but Keegan slammed a kill off a blocker and out of bounds then sent over a serve Trinity could not handle to move within a point of a 2-0 lead. Another Tiger service error ended the second set, 25-14.
Scanlon began the third set with an ace and McCormick drilled a kill into the deck after Trinity tied the match at 1-1. Ties followed at 2-2 and 5-5, but a passing error, another Lily Middlekauff ace, and an Ella Middlekauff kill gave the Brook an 8-5 margin. Kills from Keegan and Ella Middlekauff followed a Trinity timeout before Scanlon dunked a ball at the net and the Tiger’s best hitter sent a ball long to give the Brook a 12-7 lead. A pair of big Apazidis digs led to McCormick kills for a 14-9 edge that forced another Trinity timeout. In a momentum game like volleyball, timeouts are often employed to stem the tide of a surging team, but when Scanlon came out of Trinity’s sixth timeout with an ace, it marked the fourth time the Bears had scored a point immediately following a Tiger stoppage. Trinity chipped away at their deficit, but a Keegan fireball, that prompted a Tiger to duck, and a long hit from Trinity gave the Brook a 19-14 lead, up five with six points to go. With their backs firmly against the wall, the Tigers ran off the next five points to knot the contest at 19-19 and prompt the Bears’ first timeout of the match. The message in the huddle was clear: it was time to dig deep and finish the job.
Out of the break, Trinity could not return a Keegan hit and on the next point Keegan ended a long rally with a kill. Trinty bounced back with a pair of points to knot the set again at 21-21, but once again, the Bears refused to succumb to the pressure as they immediately took the lead back on a Keegan kill. Trinity found only net on the next point and then failed to return Keegan’s serve as the Bears moved within a point of the victory. After the Bears hit it long on the next play, Ella Middlekauff capped the historic win with a kill as the Bears completed the sweep, 25-22.
When a team comes together to play their best at the most crucial time, it is a thing of beauty. Our team was well prepared thanks to the outstanding coaching of Kennedy and Juana Garcia, they met a worthy opponent that asked for their best, and they delivered a complete team victory that saw everyone on the court contribute in big ways. In the face of an athletic team that boasted two big hitters and an agile setter, the Bears thoroughly outplayed our old Ivy League rivals and were an impenetrable unit that easily shook off mistakes, executed with precision, and exuded business-like confidence for the duration of the match.
The win was also a historic one for the PSAA as the Bears achieved our league’s first NYSAIS volleyball victory since at least 2008, which is as far back as the available records go. The Bears now move on to the State Quarterfinals where they meet #2 Poly Prep this evening at 5:00pm in Brooklyn.