Patrick E. McCarthy

Patrick E. McCarthy Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Many teams have a mascot, but Connetquot girls volleyball is the only one with a “Rasscal.”

“We had a team mascot, ‘Rasscal The Dog,’ ” explained Nicole Migliozzi, of the symbol the unbeaten Class AA state champions rallied around this season.

It does not seem like anything out of the ordinary . . . until you realize Rasscal is not actually a real dog, but rather an imaginary character of outside hitter Ashley Spencer. It only existed in the form of posters that appeared in the stands during every step of the Thunderbirds’ road to its first state title, and on Twitter, where the hashtag #FearTheRasscal became a team rallying cry.

Senior Katie von Kampen explained that Spencer, “the comedian on our team, came to practice one day and said she had a dog, Rasscal.” The team found out later that day Spencer had simply made Rasscal up as a joke, but as von Kampen said, “we kind of just ran with it.”

Silly as it sounds, the imaginary dog may have been the perfect symbol of this Thunderbirds team, a loose, fun-loving group that was as close off the court as on it.

“It shows we were always relaxed, and it was something that made us stand out from other teams,” von Kampen said.

As opponents found out, though, Connetquot’s fun-loving nature did not preclude intensity on the court. The 19-0 Thunderbirds dealt Ward Melville and Massapequa their only losses of the season in the Suffolk and Long Island championships, respectively. In the state tournament at Glens Falls, Connetquot won eight of the nine sets it played, including a straight-set victory over Pine Bush in the state final.

“This group of kids works very hard every year,” coach Justin Hertz said. “They put the time in and they certainly deserve everything they have achieved.”

Von Kampen, a five-year varsity player, anchored the middle and had more than 100 blocks, and provided a veteran presence alongside Lauren Ballinger, the team’s other senior.

Libero Mackenzie Cole led the defense, recording 450 kills, and paired with Migliozzi (610 assists) to form an elite passing duo.

Taylor shined during the state tournament, and Cassandra Patsos, Taylor Cole and Cory Carrara were also key contributors to the title run, which culminated with a fire truck escort to the high school on the return trip from upstate. They were greeted that night by about 100 family members, friends and classmates.

“It was so humbling, knowing everyone had our backs,” Migliozzi said.

“It was such an awesome feeling,” Taylor said. “Everyone was there for us.”

And after the bus pulled onto the school grounds, the players gathered around a poster of that certain fictional dog.

#FearTheRasscal.

THUNDERBIRDS’ road to the championship

Suffolk playoffs

Lindenhurst, 3-0

Smithtown West, 3-0

Ward Melville, 3-0

LI championship

Massapequa, 3-0

State tournament

(Pool play 5-1)

State final

Pine Bush, 3-0

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