Floral Park started the match energized and kept the emotions high all the way through, upsetting the top seed en route to the program’s first Nassau A girls volleyball title.
Faith Balletta was the spark the Knights so desperately needed on Wednesday night against Wantagh, one of Nassau’s stalwart programs. She had 16 kills and three blocks to lead her side to a 25-13, 26-28, 22-25, 25-18, 25-18 win at SUNY-Old Westbury.
“This is a feeling that I’ve had before,” Balletta said. “Last year during the basketball season, we made it to state finals. This is a similar feeling, but this is so much more exciting because it’s with new people who’ve never experienced something like this.”
Whenever No. 3 Floral Park needed a boost, Balletta was there to provide it. At the end of timeouts, she emphatically yelled the chant. When Wantagh was on one of its many scoring runs, she was there with Natalie Hickman (17 kills, four blocks) to swat a hit away.
“We work well in basketball and volleyball, I guess,” said Hickman, who was also part of the Knights’ girls basketball team last season.
Floral Park (16-3) led a lethal offense in the opening set, highlighted by setter Alice Brandt, who finished with a game-high 42 assists.
It appeared as if Wantagh (18-1) had the second set under control with a 10-1 lead, but Floral Park stormed back, tying the game at 22 and forcing Wantagh to win in extra points.
Wantagh led from 8-7 in the third and kept the advantage all the way through. Floral Park, who had trailed 2-1 against South Side in the semifinals, was in familiar territory.
“We came back two sets and it was crazy,” said junior libero Sheryl Matthew, who was a rock on the back line with 40 digs. “We had a goal for this one and we set our minds to it.”
Matthew’s job was made even more important in the fourth and fifth sets when Wantagh’s Jillian Graham (19 kills) and Abby Cullen (13) came out swinging. Shannon Hagan (32 assists) made great passes, putting her biggest hitters in position to do damage.
But Matthew never faltered, delivering accurate passes to Brandt to execute the offense and deliver an upset.
“We came into this with two losses against them (in the regular season), but as our coaches always tell us, it’s hard to beat a team three times,” Hickman said.
The Knights will play the winner of Kings Park and Westhampton in the Long Island Class A Championship at 3 p.m. Saturday at Old Westbury, and they’ll need clutch performances from their top stars again to advance to Glens Falls.
But the Knights always seem to rise to the challenge.