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Wantagh takes volleyball crown

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The Wantagh girls’ volleyball team proved once again that they are the best in Nassau County.

Shannon Sullivan and Sadie Reich combined for 17 kills and Sarah Rende had 25 assists as the top-seeded Warriors claimed its second Nassau Class A title in three seasons with a convincing 25-18, 25-9, 25-16 win over visiting South Side on April 28.

Olivia Pugliese added six kills and Nicolette Piscopo shined defensively with 12 digs for the 12-1 Warriors, who didn’t drop a set in any of their four playoff matchups. Wantagh won’t be able to compete for the Long Island title it claimed in 2018 because of the pandemic, but that didn’t put a damper on the girls’ spirits.

“I feel on top of the world,” Sullivan said. “I wish we could go further, but I am happy we pulled through with the win.”

Sophia Jackson had four kills, two aces and 10 digs and fellow senior Maddie Gamberg added three blocks for the second-seeded Cyclones, who finished the season with seven wins.

“We definitely didn’t bring it,” South Side coach Cheryl Scalice said. “Wantagh played an awesome game. If you don’t, throughout a match, get better and better, this is the end result. That’s pretty much how it turned out today.”

The first two meetings between the schools this spring were hotly contested, including a five-set victory by Wantagh on April 13 in which South Side won the fourth set before falling two points short in the fifth. It marked the only time that Wantagh went the distance all season.

But this time, the Warriors made sure the Cyclones wouldn’t make it close.

Wantagh jumped out to a quick 9-3 lead in the first set that started with Sullivan’s pretty loft volley and Rende’s service ace that made it 3-0 and ended with two failed possessions and two long hits out of bounds by South Side. The Cyclones rallied to get within four points at 15-11, but the Warriors put the game out of reach with a 6-1 run, highlighted by two Pugliese kills and her combined block with Rende that scored another point.

Wantagh exploded for a 10-1 start to the second set that starred Sullivan and eighth-grader Reich. Both had two powerful kills and Reich added a desperation volley that somehow found space in Cyclone territory before combining with teammate Julia Coppola on another block point. The Warriors recorded the last seven points of the set behind more or Rende’s stellar serving.

“We’re always connecting,” Reich said of her teammates. “I know that I trust them and they trust me, so it’s like being part of a family. It’s really helpful that we’re connected like that and that we all trust each other.”

South Side took an early 3-2 lead in the third set on Sarah Hubschman’s kill and Gamberg and Jackson’s block point, but Wantagh followed with six straight points to regain the lead. The resilient Cyclones answered with four more points of their own and, after yielding the next five to the Warriors, cut the deficit to 13-10 on Jackson’s kill and two aces. But that was the closest South Side could get as Wantagh went on a 5-1 run to pull away for good.

When South Side’s final volley sailed over the back line for the championship point, all of the Wantagh players rushed the middle of their zone for an emotional embrace.

“They played out of their shoes,” Wantagh assistant coach Susanne Hoffman said. “They had tremendous heart. We always start the year off and tell them, ‘Walk off the court with no regrets,’ and they had no regrets tonight.”