ALBANY - The odds were stacked against Ward Melville, as they had been all postseason.
And still, the Patriots came just one set short of advancing to the Division I state championship match.
After splitting two sets with eventual champion Fairport (Section V), a 25-23 loss and a 25-13 win, Ward Melville lost both sets against 2022 champion Shenendehowa (Section II), 25-22, 25-22, in the pool play round of the Division I boys volleyball state championship Saturday at Albany Capital Center.
“Going back to the beginning of this year, we wanted to establish Ward Melville as a competitive volleyball program like Shenendehowa and Fairport, who are here pretty frequently,” senior setter Andrew Desimone said. “We may not have won . . . but I think we established that we’re a top school in the state and we’re going to be back.”
With Shenendehowa losing both sets against Fairport, Ward Melville just needed to take one set against Shenendehowa to advance to the final. The Patriots held a lead in each set, but Shenendehowa’s championship experience showed up.
And so did Penn State commit Bennett Wilson.
Wilson had eight kills as Shenendehowa came back from a 14-7 deficit in the first set. Ward Melville led 16-10 in the second set, but Wilson helped cut the deficit to four points before completely taking over. He served five aces during an 8-0 run to give Shenendehowa a 22-19 lead. He totaled five kills and seven aces in the second set.
“It was just something we’ve never seen before,” Kyle Fagan said. “He’s one of the best players in the country. He’s just a different breed and we’re not used to seeing that.”
“We missed seven serves in the first set against Fairport and we still had a chance to win that. We had a chance to beat Shenendehowa both those sets,” Ward Melville coach Brian O’Shaughnessy added. “We’re not leaving here happy that we participated. We’re thinking that we could’ve won it all.”
Fagan totaled 17 kills, a block and an ace and Shawn Legge had five kills and one block.
Ward Melville finishes the season 12-7 after entering the Suffolk County playoffs as the fifth seed and knocking off top-seeded Bay Shore in the semifinals and No. 2 West Islip in the final for its first county title since 2005. The Patriots defeated Syosset to claim their first Long Island championship in program history.
“It was amazing to see us go from at one point not even being a playoff team to get all the way here,” said Legge, a senior. “We played great against the two best teams in the state. We gave those teams 22 points or more every set after being the fifth seed in Suffolk County.”
With five seniors graduating, Ward Melville will return several underclassmen who were key contributors to this incredible run.
“Our goal year in and year out is county finals because it’s so hard to get through Suffolk County to get here,” O’Shaughnessy said. “For the group of underclassmen on the floor to get this experience only helps us for next year. I don’t know if my goal is to win the county championship anymore. I think it’s to get back to this building.”