Sam Cox and Olivia Cassone began calling themselves “the dynamic duo” as freshmen, and it just kind of stuck.
It was only fitting that the pair capped off their illustrious volleyball careers with an appearance in the state tournament.
“We thrive on each other’s energy and work so well together, it’s always fun for us,” said Cox, who’s been playing at the varsity level since she was in eighth grade. “We knew how amazing getting to states was two years ago and that we needed to go back. I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else there but her.”
Pierson came up short in pool play at Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls November 23, but that didn’t stop the girls from celebrating all they’ve achieved. The Whalers fell to Portville 25-13, 25-14, to Valhalla 25-12, 25-14; and to Lake George 25-19, 25-15.
“It was bittersweet, sad knowing that it was my last championship game in high school, but also exciting to be there one last time,” said Cassone, who was pulled up to play varsity during the playoffs as a freshman, and remained on the team from that point forward. “It was a different experience from the first time, because I was prepared for the competition. I knew what was going to come at us.”
Cox said the competition from other areas of the state was definitely tough.
“The other Class C schools we played against today play many more games during the season, which helps with experience,” she said. “Although we didn’t come out on top, I’m happy with our gameplay today.”
The senior said she thinks her team started off a bit quiet, and could tell some of the girls were nervous. About half the team — Cassone and Cox, juniors Gylia Dryden and Lilith Bastek-Ochoa, and sophomore Sophia Mancino were on the Pierson team that made it to the state tournament in 2017.
“Once we became more comfortable with the court we picked it up and had a lot of fun,” Cox said. “Being in that arena was a great experience for the future and hopefully motivated the younger players to return in the coming years.”
“Knowing it was our last year, we wanted to give it everything we had,” Cox continued. “Olivia and I were talking about how these memories and experiences will be with us for the rest of our lives. It shows that we can defy odds to return — achieve our goals.”
Cassone thought the level of skill was appropriate for the championships, and well-matched. What made it difficult for the Whalers is they were without Pierson junior Ngelika Tobias Narvaez and Bridgehampton freshman Samantha Grabb heading upstate, and lost Pierson sophomore Grace Brosnan after the first set pool play. An outside hitter came down on her ankle, spraining and potentially fracturing it.
“Not only was it a hard hit for us strategically, but also mentally,” Cassone said. “We were never able to get back on track after that. I think the odds were stacked against us, but even after all that we gave it our best shot.”
She too said being upstate with her partner-in-crime felt right.
“We have strived to be the best captains we could be and one of our goals was helping the team get to states,” Cassone said. “But this also isn’t a one or two-person game. You can be giving 110 percent, but if the team doesn’t do the same, you won’t be successful. I enjoyed being a part of Pierson’s program, especially because I had a coach who listened to our ideas and supported us.”
Cox said she and Cassone regularly texted each other new ideas, planned new strategies, and shared those with head coach Donna Fisher.
Fisher said the girls would call her, text her with those ideas all hours of the day, every day, asking to meet or come over her house.
“I had a lot of faith in them,” she said. “They’re very knowledgeable and helpful to me and the team. Because it’s a younger team now, it will be hard for the girls to fill the shoes of Liv and Sam. Not only are they great players but great leaders as well.”
She said during a team dinner with all the schools in the state tournament prior to the matches Cox and Cassone performed a rap in front of the group about the team and the hamlets it represents.
“It was cute,” she said.
The coach has known the girls and worked with them since elementary school. Fisher has coached the younger girls in the district for 15 years, and been the varsity leader the last six. While she said she’s typically not one to get emotional, she admits she broke down and cried at the end of the last game against Lake George.
“I started sobbing,” she said. “Not because we lost, but because I’m going to miss them so much. I’m so proud and happy for them. I love those girls.”
Cassone said she and Cox started playing together at Sagg Main Beach. Cox began playing club volleyball a few years ago and plays beach volleyball, too. The three have also been part of a summer leadership program.
“The bond is very strong,” Fisher said. “I don’t know what I’ll do without them.”
While the coach said she typically had to walk down the halls begging kids to join the team, getting them interested hasn’t been hard now, especially with the program ‘s success as of late. She said almost 50 kids tried out for seventh and eighth-grade team this year.
“So many young girls come out to the games,” Fisher said. “Sam and Olivia have gotten a lot of awards, a lot of hype, a lot of fans to come. The community support has been amazing and I think it’s because they put it out there and the younger girls want to be like them — want to emulate them as much as they can.”
Cox encouraged other girls to compete with a club team, and Fisher said a record five on this year’s team now have.
“It’s been amazing working with Sam. She has terrific, spot-on court sense, and she knows where everyone should be on the court, knows her offenses and defense, she likes to scout,” Fisher said. “She’s a great resource and she’s been very helpful not only with the younger kids but for me, too. I know the other teams would key on her, know to try to tire her out and serve to her and try to block her — she was the one to go after because they know how smart and talented she is.”
A big thing for Cox was to have the opportunity to compete in college. Following the Long Island championship game her dream came true. While unable to announce her unofficial signing, she will be playing Division III in college next year.
“I’m super pumped — very excited,” Cox said. “I’m so glad I’ve found my home and can’t wait to grow that much more. I have learned so much from coach Fisher that I’ll take into college: how to work with others, work for your goals, and fighting until the last point. We’ve all put Pierson volleyball on the map.”