Kathleen Verastegui looked her teammates in the eyes and asked them a simple question Sunday night as her Long Beach girls volleyball teammates collected themselves before the fifth set of their Long Island Championship game against Commack.
“Do you want this to be the last time we ever play together?” the senior libero said.
The question — more rhetorical than anything else, as they all said no — defined the transformation of Verastegui from a quiet, knowledge-sponging underclassman into a passionate senior leader.
“I said ‘everyone knows we deserve to play more games than this,’” Verastegui said. “’If that doesn’t fuel you and make you want to play, you have to get up to that point right now.’”
Long Beach answered Verastegui’s question on the court as well as in the huddle, winning the fifth set 25-14, capturing their first Long Island championship and advancing to the state tournament in Glens Falls.
Verastegui, who will play at Molloy College next season, had 38 digs in the victory over Commack, earning her Newsday Athlete of the Week Honors. She had 44 digs in pool play at the state championships Saturday. Long Beach went 5-1 to finish first in Class AA and advanced to Sunday's noon final against Victor. Entering Sunday, Verastegui had 603 digs this season.
“I know that, although I have teammates surrounding me, I’m the most experienced defensive person on my team,” Verastegui said “So, I’m trying to make those impossible plays every time. I’m trying to cover my hitters, I’m trying to be ready for second hand sets, and I’m always trying to take any ball on a service because I know how vital that first pass is.
“Playing scrappy defense is pretty tiring, but it’s something I enjoy doing because it keeps the play alive and that’s something my coach relies on me to do — keep the ball alive and always make those crazy plays.”
Verastegui hopes that her impact, and the impact of this year’s team as a whole, will leave a lasting footprint in the sands of the Long Beach girls volleyball program. This season was much more than one fall full of glory, one isolated championship, or one bus ride to Glens Falls for a tightknit group of friends. No, this was about hopeful beginnings — the beginnings of a legacy, the beginnings of a tradition and, possibly, the first chapter in a very successful story.
”Myself, along with my outside hitter Emma McGovern and my setter Grace Rosenberg have taken huge initiatives this season to teach [younger players] and create a legacy that we wish we had when we were younger,” Verastegui said. “Each game relied on us putting in solid defense, setting, and hitting. But, incorporating the other girls also became a mission.”
Now, they have the Long Island Championship banner to show for it. Mission accomplished.
“It’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever felt,” Verastegui said. “To know that no matter where we go from here, whenever I look up in the gym — whether I’m watching a friend or a family member play — I’m going to be able to see the championship with my teammates . . . Being the first to do it is incredible because I’ve never had any prior experience or anyone who has done it on Long Beach to help me. For me to be able to create that standard is absolutely amazing.”