The feeling hasn’t grown old and never will. On the floor, on the bench, in the stands, the smiles were plentiful and genuine as the Eastport South Manor boys volleyball team reigned supreme in Suffolk County Division II for the third consecutive year.
In front of a raucous home crowd on Saturday morning, the Sharks fended off a pesky East Hampton squad making its first-ever appearance in a county final for boys volleyball. Connor Brandow proved too tough at the net for Bonac, registering a match-high 23 kills to lift ESM to a 27-25, 28-26, 25-14 victory.
“It feels great, another county championship,” said senior setter Tom Jordan. “We’ve done it three years in a row now. Everybody played great today. I’m happy we won.”
ESM (12-2) will play the Nassau County champion—either Bellmore JFK or Floral Park, to be determined Sunday—for the Division II Long Island championship on Tuesday, November 13, at Westhampton Beach Middle School at 4 p.m. A triumph there would propel the Sharks to a third consecutive berth in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) championship, held at Glens Falls Civic Center November 17-18.
As for East Hampton (7-8), it had never reached the county championship match in its history, but Bonac head coach Josh Brussell hopes that Saturday was the first of many in League III.
“It’s the first time we were here, and experience-wise, we did really well,” he said. “We really pushed. We have a very young team. I’m looking forward to next year and the years after. These guys have just gotten great experience so they can come back and win it next time.”
The 10 a.m. start, which required a 7:30 a.m. pickup from East Hampton High School, didn’t faze the Bonackers. They had three opportunities to close out game one only to have ESM snatch it away. Following an L.B. Lownes kill from the left side, the Bonackers served with a 24-22 lead. They appeared to have the game won with a strong serve that had ESM scrambling, but Sharks libero Corey Vogt kept the ball alive and ultimately won the point on a John Suarez putaway.
Eastport South Manor, a three-set victor over Center Moriches in Friday’s semifinals, fended off another game point down 25-24, but back-to-back kills by Connor Brandow, followed by a Bonac attack error, allowed ESM to escape.
“If I was on the opposing team and we were trying to block Connor, I’m not quite sure how I would do it because he is very difficult to read,” Eastport South Manor head coach Bruce Stiriz said. “He adjusts to the ball so well and he can hurt you in a number of different ways.”
“I just try to give the ball to whoever’s hot at that moment,” added Jordan. “Connor was hot today so I was giving it to him, but I also tried to mix it up a little and get the other guys opportunities.”
Brandow continued to convert at the net in game two, helping the Sharks erase two game points for East Hampton. John Tuttle registered a huge block to put ESM ahead, 26-25, but Evan Larsen tipped the ball over a Shark block to even it at 26-all. However, two Bonac miscues gave Eastport a 2-0 edge in games.
Brussell admitted that a two-game hole, particularly with the way they were lost, made it difficult for his team to win the third game, never mind three straight against the Sharks, who went unbeaten in League III. To their credit, East Hampton built a three-point lead, but Brandow and Brandon Calderone took over from there. Ahead 16-10, the lead swelled to 20-11 on three kills and a block by Brandow, and Calderone put the match away with two straight kills.
Stiriz lauded the effort of the Bonackers, who two weeks ago fell, 26-24, 25-18, 25-11, in the same gymnasium and took on the bracket’s top seed barely 12 hours after a grueling five-set win at No. 2 Sayville.
“East Hampton was outstanding,” Stiriz said. “They really played great. Those first two games could have gone either way, so hats off to them.”