Daniella Balsano sang. Her teammates danced. To top it off, the Connetquot girls volleyball team advanced.
Behind Balsano’s 15 digs, Cassandra Patsos’ 13 kills and Nicole Migliozzi’s 35 assists, the top-seeded Thunderbirds defeated second-seeded Commack, 25-17, 25-17, 25-19, on Thursday in the Suffolk Class AA championship at SCCC-Brentwood.
Connetquot has won four consecutive county championships and will play Long Beach at 6:30 p.m. Saturday for the Long Island championship at SCCC-Brentwood.
Before each match, the Thunderbirds dance as part of their warmup routine. Balsano and Mackenzie Taylor act as choreographers in front.
“It started four years ago, at the beginning,” Balsano said. “We just like to dance to start it off. It’s just so much fun.”
After the warmup, Balsano sang the National Anthem, something she’s done frequently during Connetquot’s recent playoff runs.
Their fun-loving side translated to success on the court. Commack came out fast in the first set, taking a 5-2 lead. But Connetquot quickly regained control at 7-6 and let their exuberant play carry them the rest of the way. Patsos ended it with a swing cross-court.
“They were really scrappy, and they were digging everything, so it was a little harder for us to put the ball down,” Patsos said. “But we stuck to what we knew.”
What they know is how to play defense, a staple of the Thunderbirds state title in 2015 and their state runner-up finish in 2016.
Mackenzie Cole added 15 digs, while Taylor had 14 digs. They kickstarted a fast-paced offense that saw Cole (11 kills) and Taylor (10) help wear down the defense of Commack (15-1).
“We had to adjust the defense to rover because they were hitting lines,” Balsano said, adding that it was a defense they hadn’t played much of this season.
Abbey Dummler and Samantha Spalding put pressure on Connetquot (17-0), but the battle-tested Thunderbirds stayed poised. Even when Commack threatened with an 18-17 lead in the third set, the Thunderbirds buckled down and took the lead for good at 19-18.
With another trip to the state tournament in Glens Falls on its minds, Connetquot is still hungry for more. But for now, there’s more dancing to be done.