Kayla Principato of South Side and Danielle Valenza of Hauppauge were among the best on Long Island at coming up with timely kills and blocks to spark their volleyball teams. It was during those crucial times when their skill and athleticism was most apparent. To be fair, they almost always made the right play, whether it was a routine one at the beginning of a game or a spectacular finish in a crucial moment.
The seniors, both Newsday All-Long Island selections, led their teams to the county finals and both put up spectacular numbers along the way, even with other teams concentrating on neutralizing them. Both could make all the plays their teams needed with the composure that helped raise the confidence of their teammates.
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"Everybody else on the team was kind of inexperienced except for our other senior Veronica Matedero and it made them more relaxed to have Danielle on the court," Hauppauge coach Eric Ericksen said. "They knew she would get the job done and she was going to put the ball away and get points and everyone else filled in around her. It worked really well for us."
For her efforts, Valenza was named the Suffolk County Most Outstanding Senior by the coaches association. She finished the season with 452 kills and will be playing at LIU Post next year.
Principato, who missed all but the first few weeks of the 2012 season with a shoulder injury, returned for her senior season without her all-Long Island running mates Allison Glass and Deanna Mostowfi, who both graduated.
Despite the injury keeping her out for the majority of her junior year, Principato was still named all-county by the Nassau Coaches Association as her early-season dominance left its mark. It's that ability that has the 6-3 lefty heading off to play at the University of Denver in the fall.
"A player as positive and a role model such as her made a huge impact," South Side coach Cheryl Scalice said. "We won the counties last year without her but this year, she was the leader."
Scalice could not point to a specific match in which Principato truly stood out. She said her star player played consistently at such a high level that she could take over the game when she needed to.
"You don't see a player with that height, athletic ability and skills very often as a coach," Scalice said, noting that Principato's defensive skills were off the chart, something not as common for a player of her size.
Principato led her team with 381 kills and was second with 125 digs.
Though both Valenza and Principato's teams fell just short of a county title, both players had outstanding seasons and served as the backbones of their teams. They were able to flash brilliant athleticism, but also act as teachers on the court who stayed humble and made their teammates better.
They were great to play with, and equally tough to play against.
"She was very intimidating and she just dominated," Ericksen said of Valenza. "Every game we played in -- everybody knew about her -- but it didn't matter. She's just so competitive and it was fun to watch."
It will be difficult for each team to replace such outstanding players, but the memories of the 2013 season will last forever.