From the beginning, Justin Hertz noticed something different about the Connetquot girls volleyball team’s future stars.
Mackenzie Cole and Mackenzie Taylor showed enough talent to make the varsity as seventh graders. Nicole Migliozzi and Cassandra Patsos followed a year later, with Daniella Balsano coming a year after that.
This core group of seniors, all with Division I scholarships, molded the Thunderbirds into a powerhouse, earning two Class AA state championships in three years.
“That group has been such a pleasure to see grow up on a volleyball court, and I will miss them so much,” Hertz said after Connetquot overcame a 2-1 deficit to win a state title against Shenendehowa on Nov. 19 in Glens Falls. “But they will be in our gym, whether they’re in there or not, because they’ve left a lot.”
What they’ve left is a work ethic that involved 5 a.m. practices and countless hours of extra work, a mentality that Hertz said he is confident the younger athletes have adopted.
Part of what made this core special was how mechanical their play seemed. When everything was going right — and it nearly always did during the 19-0 season — Connetquot was a well-oiled juggernaut. But when the T-Birds scored, they broke from that mechanical mold to celebrate like few other teams could. Above all, the Thunderbirds knew how and when to have fun.
“I would not be where I am without my teammates,” Cole said. “They’re my rocks and my best friends, and when I’m at a low point, I know that they’re going to be there for me.”
Two other seniors, Taylor Konzen and Skyla Schoppmeyer, made varsity as sophomores, just in time for the Thunderbirds’ first championship run. They reminisced about playing together for the last time.
“It was magical,” Schoppmeyer said. “It’s the best thing ever. No one gets to experience that like we do.”
Having faced little adversity during a regular season in which Connetquot didn’t drop a single set to Long Island competition, staring down a 2-1 deficit was truly a difficult test. Knowing it would be their last time together on the court regardless of the outcome, the seniors buckled down to have fun. When Patsos put down the final kill of the match, an array of emotions hit them all at once.
There were tears, of joy and sadness. Although they had won, it was the last time they’d experience the feeling together. Success like this was always something Hertz envisioned, though, and he was happy to share the moment.
“I’m so proud,” he said. “I’m also just so happy for them because their hard work paid off. Believe me, these kids put in the time.”
ROAD TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP
Sachem East, 3-0
Long Beach, 3-0