The Connetquot girls volleyball team has such overwhelming talent that no one player outshines another.
That can create a sticky situation in some cases, but not with the Thunderbirds. They’re equal parts dominant and selfless.
Take junior Mackenzie Taylor. She’s talented enough to be a star libero at almost any other school on Long Island, but because of Newsday All-Long Island first team member Mackenzie Cole, she plays outside hitter — and she plays it well.
Taylor is a playmaker, and she showcased that in Connetquot’s 25-13, 25-18, 25-13 win over visiting Smithtown West (3-6) in a non-league match on Tuesday.
“It’s hard coming in from travel teams playing libero all the time and coming here and hitting,” said Taylor, who had 11 digs and eight kills. “I think of it as getting playing time and playing wherever coach and the team needs me.”
Taylor isn’t the only one giving up “me” for “we,” as the team likes to say. Several of the Connetquot (11-0) reserves would be contributors on other teams and prove that when they play with the starters, flowing almost seamlessly into the offense and defense.
“It’s definitely different when they come on the court, but we’ve practiced and we’ve played with them for so long now,” Taylor said. “I know I can rely on them.”
The selflessness of the Thunderbirds also extends to practice. Coach Justin Hertz recalled last Saturday’s practice, which was almost cancelled because two girls had conflicts. Instead, the team chose to practice from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. to accommodate them.
“They’re fully invested; they understand that the team is more important than the individual,” said Hertz, who left the decision to practice up to the team. “We’re a team of 13 right now, and they can’t function with one or two out. They’re not OK with that. They showed it by sacrificing sleep.”
Senior Taylor Cole, who had eight kills and four digs yesterday, said improvements come from playing together.
“Mentally, we’re always trying to focus on the team,” she said. “That’s what we always want it to be about. It’s about taking collective responsibility and when we lose, it’s not about blaming one person.”
The Thunderbirds dropped their first set of the year on Monday to Smithtown East in non-league play. How did they respond? With a signature three-set sweep.
Said Taylor: “I don’t think we’ve gotten to our full potential, but we’re getting closer to our goals.”
And who could possibly doubt them? With their level of commitment, the Thunderbirds are poised yet again to finish strong in Suffolk AA.