Belle Smith has two words to describe what this season means to her and her girls volleyball team: revenge tour.
And after a three-set loss to Kings Park on the road September 13, that feeling for redemption has only intensified. The Kingsmen have taken out her Westhampton Beach team in the Suffolk County finals in each of the last five seasons, and she was there for all of them. She’s hoping that the sixth time’s a charm.
“Revenge tour. That’s the goal. We’re going to give it everything we can,” the senior libero said following the 25-21, 25-23, 25-18 loss. “Kings Park is a great team. It’s always fun playing them, but it’s exciting to know these three sets today were really close. It gives us an opportunity to finish this on a high note at the end of the year.”
That closeness gives Smith hope, so does the new bond between her and her teammates, including new additions Ava Koszalka (a senior with five kills, one assist) and her younger sister Emmie (a sophomore with six kills, one block). While the pair aren’t new to the team off the court, having gone through the Westhampton Beach school district until the end of middle school, adjusting to their styles on the court will require some time.
“The Koszalkas are awesome girls, they’re great volleyball players, and they have really good volleyball IQs,” Smith said. “So, to have them on the court with us is really exciting. They make us better.”
Head coach Lenny Zaloga said his team still failed to adjust to what Kings Park was throwing at them, while the Kingsmen quickly picked up on everything the Hurricanes were. He said the team also needs more work blocking.
Those were issues that plagued the first set after the Hurricanes jumped out to an 18-9 lead. Sturdy in the back row, Smith’s digs (39 total) ignited an offense led by setter Olivia Jayne (had the ball 39 times, five assists, two aces), the Koszalka hitters, and Jackie Glaser (four kills, one ace).
“I think we kept up with them more than we ever have in the past,” Jayne said. “There’s a lot of positives coming out of this. I think next time we should do better.”
After a net violation on Westhampton gave Kings Park the ball trailing 18-10, the Kingsmen got things rolling, scoring 15 of the final 18 points to take the first set. Liv Benard, who fractured her left ankle last fall and missed her team’s run to another county championship, served three consecutive aces during that stretch, and Jackie Wolf chipped in three kills.
“Being up by nine points in the first set only to lose . . . to give up that many points late in the game is discouraging,” Zaloga said, adding that he does like having Kings Park in League VI this year, to give the Hurricanes a chance to see the Kingsmen before the postseason. “But we played OK. The kids know we can play with them. They know a couple points, few less mental mistakes a set, and we would’ve won the game. It’s not physical as much as it was mental. We’re right there.”
Ella Donneson (three kills, one block, one assist), Amber Troutman (had the ball 19 times and provided six assists), and Michelle Kryl (one kill) also aided in the Hurricanes fury that kept things close with Kings Park through the second set, which was knotted nine times. A Kryl block broke an 18-all tie, and a Donneson kill put Westhampton out front 20-18, but Wolf started another late rally with a commanding swing that continued to find a hole near the Hurricanes’ left sideline.
Jayne said while the close sets give her team a boost of confidence, she would like to see her Hurricanes be motivated in a different way from the loss to Kings Park. “I think we need to swing harder, serve harder, be more confident,” Jayne said. “Do everything more aggressively against a team like them.”
“It’s the beginning of the season though, so I think this is a good starting point,” Smith added. “I’m excited we have some room to improve.”