Back in 2010, the Eastport South Manor boys volleyball team won the first of two Long Island Division II Championships in a 3-2 victory over Bellmore JFK. On November 13, the two teams met again for the Long Island title, but this time it was Bellmore JFK that came out the victor, downing the defending Long Island champion Sharks, 3-2, at the Westhampton Beach Middle School.
The Cougars defeated Lake Shore, 3-0, to win the New York State Division II Championship on Sunday at the Glens Falls Civic Center. ESM finished the season with a 12-3 overall record.
ESM head coach Bruce Stiriz was surprised to say the least that his team lost last week. He saw Bellmore play in its 3-1 victory over West Hempstead in the Nassau County Championship on November 12 and didn’t see anything that made him think that the Cougars would be able to beat his team.
Stiriz was surprised to see senior Cougar Steven Gassert play so well against his team, since he was non-existent in the county final for the Cougars. “He really stepped up,” Stiriz said of Gassert. “He played with a refuse-to-lose attitude.
“My hat’s off to Bellmore,” he added. “They did a real nice job.”
Meanwhile, Stiriz said, a few of his players played below their averages. “I guess it was nerves. It’s hard to say,” he said. “They’ve been in pressure matches throughout the season, though. More so than the past years. Bellmore just stepped it up.”
ESM took the first game, 26-24, but then lost the next two games, 25-15, 29-27. The Sharks bounced back to win the fourth game, 25-22, but lost the fifth and final set, 25-22. Stiriz said the toughest loss came in the marathon, which was game three.
The Sharks, at one point, had a four-point lead in game three, but Bellmore found its way back and tied the game at 22-22 on a kill from junior Justin Fiegeles. Two errors by ESM gave the Cougars a two-point lead, but the Sharks eventually came back and took the lead at 25-24, behind two consecutive kills by senior Connor Brandow.
The teams went back and forth with points until Gassert recorded a kill to give Bellmore the one-point advantage. Then the Cougars blocked a try by ESM to win the match, 29-27.
“Bellmore came up really big with their blocks,” Stiriz said.
ESM came back and won game four fairly easily to force a fifth game. Bellmore led, 13-6, in that game, but the Sharks pulled within a point at 21-20. Bellmore eventually went up by three points, but a kill by Brandow made it 24-22 and gave the Sharks the ball.
On the next play, ESM went up to block the ball and the head official blew the whistle much to everyone’s surprise. She called an error on the Sharks, and the Cougars won the game 25-22 and therefore the match.
Stiriz wasn’t quite sure what the call was, but later on was able to get an explanation from the official. She thought that one of the ESM players trying to block the ball reached over the other side of the net and contacted the ball, which is illegal. Stiriz called it a discretionary call and was surprised the official decided to use that play to decide the match.
“If I was refereeing that match, I would have said, ‘Wow, that was close. I don’t want to end the match on that,’” he said. “In lieu of the situation, I would have let the teams decide the match, but it wasn’t my call.”
Stiriz didn’t necessarily think that one call ruined the entire match, though. He instead referred to his thin bench, which he thought at the beginning of the year could hurt his team in the long run. “Throughout the whole match, I was searching for a guy to help out, and every time I looked, I came up short,” he said. “This loss hurts more than any other that I’ve had.”
Brandow played a very good match, and at times carried the Sharks. He finished with 29 kills, 12 digs and three blocks. Senior Corey Vogt had 35 digs and senior Tom Jordan had 51 assists. Junior John Suarez stepped his game up and finished with nine kills and four blocks.
It’s back to the drawing board for ESM, though, as it’s scheduled to graduate seven players in June. Brandow, Jordan, Vogt, Brandon Calderone, John Tuttle, Alex Johnson and Joe Piche will all be leaving the program.
But Stiriz is optimistic that his team will able to continue its perennial success in the county next season with what he has returning. Suarez will be stepping into a larger role next season and so will Eric Ferrante, who was a backup setter this season. Sophomore Tyler Brandow, younger brother to Connor, will also be looking for a larger role on the team.