GLENS FALLS, N.Y. — Other teams might have folded, unable to muster the mental resolve necessary to win two straight sets with their backs against the wall in a state championship match.
The Connetquot girls volleyball team hadn’t faced a deficit once this season, with an unblemished record on Long Island in which the Thunderbirds didn’t even drop a set.
But after winning the first set against Shenendehowa in Sunday’s state Class AA championship at Cool Insuring Arena, they dropped the next two and faced elimination. For the first time, their mettle was truly tested.
“Going into the fourth set, we weren’t going to let this be the end of our season,” setter Nicole Migliozzi said. “We worked too hard for us to fall short at the end.”
That work paid off when Cassandra Patsos sent shock waves through the arena with the final point of the match, clinching a 25-17, 20-25, 18-25, 25-16, 25-18 win over Shenendehowa for Connetquot’s second title in three years.
“This was unforgettable and irreplaceable, and I’ll never, ever forget these girls and what just happened on the court,” Patsos said.
Patsos and Migliozzi were named to the all-tournament team, and Mackenzie Cole was named tournament MVP. Those three, along with fellow seniors Mackenzie Taylor, Daniella Balsano, Taylor Konzen and Skyla Schoppmeyer, contributed to a weekend in which Connetquot sought to earn back the title it lost to Penfield last year.
That mission began without a hitch in the opening set on Sunday, as the T-Birds played with a fire Shenendehowa couldn’t match. But the second and third sets was when Shenendehowa flipped the script, funneling the ball through hitters Mary Talty and Nicole Adams to rack up points.
Connetquot coach Justin Hertz adjusted the defense and put an increased emphasis on using Patsos and Kiarra Roth more on offense, which helped spark a turnaround.
“We know our middles, Cass and Kiarra, were the ones getting the most points, so we were pushing it to them until me and [Cole] could get back into the game,” said Taylor, who made her presence felt defensively as part of a stellar back row.
It was Roth who garnered the spotlight in the final two sets, though, imposing her will at the net as both a blocker and hitter. Her energy was infectious. She had three kills, two blocks and several tips in the deciding fifth set and stands to be one of the top returners next season.
It’s players like Roth and Diana Migliozzi, quiet players who fill integral roles on the team, who made Balsano confident in a turnaround for Connetquot (19-0).
“I think it was just our mindset, knowing that this is it,” she said. “This is ours. Not at one point during the entire time did we think we were going to lose.”
Cole, one of the team’s many leaders who often deflects the praise to her teammates, was a calming presence defensively and used an array of different hits to keep Shenendehowa honest. She and the rest of the Thunderbirds were supported by a large contingent from back home.
“Our parents were awesome this weekend,” she said. “They really put us into a position to be as successful as we could.”
In the seniors’ final match together, they prevailed while overcoming emotions that were equally difficult to handle as the deficit. With tears in their eyes, they piled on each other and celebrated a moment they said they won’t soon forget.
“The bus ride home,” Konzen said, “nobody’s going to be on their phones, and we’re just going to appreciate each other and live in the moment.”