It's all hands on deck for Shelter Island girls volleyball.

Shelter Island, with a population of 2,392 based on the 2010 census, is home to just one school (K-12) that usually has about 250 students. That leaves about 70 in grades 9-12, roughly 50 percent of whom are girls.

"At Shelter Island, if you want to play, we need you to play," said coach Cindy Belt.

Shelter Island might be small, but it packs a punch. The Indians have won 11 consecutive Class D titles and have made the state championships four times - 2004, 2007, 2009 and 2010.

Belt has been the varsity coach for eight years, and every year her goal is to recruit new talent. She said her favorite aspect of coaching is teaching.

"I really enjoy developing players," she said. "We stress getting better. You can just be better than you were yesterday, better than you were last year."

The lack of bodies becomes a problem when injuries strike. With only eight girls on varsity and eight on junior varsity, players often find themselves going between squads.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Suffolk sports are enrollment-based, and Class D comprises only three schools: Pierson, Stony Brook and Shelter Island. For scheduling purposes, they play in Suffolk VIII. This allows them to play league games against Class C opponents who are typically stronger than a Class D.

"We see our stiffest competition in [larger] non-league schools like Westhampton and Hampton Bays," Belt said. "Mattituck has been the Long Island rep from Class C for several years. Almost every year we scrimmage them. I would say we are equal to them in strength."

Senior Kenna McCarthy has been in the program since eighth grade as a setter. She first played JV then made varsity in 10th grade.

She was not on varsity when Shelter Island made it to states in 2010, but she went to watch her sister, Morgan, who was on the team. The level of competition was eye opening.

"As an eighth grader, it was awesome to watch," she said. "Those teams are really good."

McCarthy said the team's goal this season is to make it to states, though she acknowledged the difficulty of having to play a regional playoff game against Haldane to get there first.

She cited the experience some of her teammates have gained from playing club volleyball as a reason why they'll succeed. Specifically, the improvement of middle hitters Emily Hyatt and Amira Lawrence has McCarthy excited. Combine their skills with seniors Kelly Colligan and Margaret Michalak, and Shelter Island is on the cusp of a memorable season.

But, in the end, Belt is all about learning and enjoying the game.

"Our mantra is 'play well and fun have,'" Belt said, chuckling. "That's always our top goal."

"Everyone has fun," McCarthy said in response. "I personally like to play well and win, but 'play well and have fun' is definitely a big aspect of our team."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Currently 6-0 in Suffolk VIII -- they play at Ross on Tuesday, the chances of Shelter Island winning and having fun as 12-time Class D champs is great.