It turned out to be an endurance test as well as a test of wills, skills and kills as the Sharks outlasted host Smithtown West, 3-2, Wednesday in an action-packed Suffolk boys volleyball match.
“Our closest match by far,” said Byrne, who led ESM (8-0) with 25 kills and contributed 29 digs. Tom Ogeka added 18 kills and Parker Bachison racked up 60 assists in the high-scoring match. Kevin Kelleher led the Bulls (5-2) with 24 kills. Chris Shanley had 20 and Thomas Bernard registered 52 assists.
Smithtown West won the first set, 26-24, before ESM rallied to win the next two, 25-23 and 25-22. The Bulls overcame a 20-16 deficit to force a fifth set with a 26-24 win in Game 4. “After we lost that first set, we got back to basics in the next two,” Ogeka said. “What we do well is pass and spread the ball around. But we got away from it again in the fourth.”
For the Sharks to take the fifth, 25-23, they needed more than the powerful overhand spikes of Byrne and Ogeka. They needed to offset the Bulls’ dominant outside hitters, Kelleher and Shanley. They needed to silence a loud, spirited crowd. They needed to send out a few rejection notices. They needed Rob Choma to stand tall at the net. Or rather leap.
Smithtown West had the gymnasium rocking when it took a 13-12 lead in the fifth set. But a pair of kills by Ogeka and back-to-back blocks by Choma forged a 16-13 lead. Those points that turned potential West kills into ESM points were backbreakers. “I felt that was a make-or-break point,” said Choma, who led all players with 10 blocks. “We needed a push and I had to help us push through in that situation.”