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Meghan Heckelman in control for Mineola volleyball

Mineola girls volleyball defeated Wantagh, 3-2, in a Nassau A-1 match at Mineola High School on Thursday, September 14, 2017. (Credit: Newsday / Kenny DeJohn)

Freshman setter Meghan Heckelman didn’t expect to play much in her first varsity season, but there she was Thursday, starting for the first time and thriving as the pressure mounted late in the deciding fifth set.

Her presence helped the Mineola girls volleyball team recover from a five-point hole midway through the final set, and it was her consecutive assists to Sam Schroeder and Olivia Burns that erased the deficit.

Schroeder’s ace then gave the host Mustangs the lead for good in a thrilling 25-20, 22-25, 25-21, 19-25, 25-21 win over defending Nassau A-I champion Wantagh (2-1).

“When I got worked up, when I made a mistake, I knew I couldn’t dwell on that,” Heckelman said. “I had to get right back up with a new state of mind and be ready to help lead the team as the setter and playmaker.”

She was all over the court, showing poise in tallying 38 assists. Schroeder was the main benefactor, racking up 23 kills. Her play with the match tied 2-2 was electric, as she hit the ball with more authority than she had earlier.

Down 16-11 in the fifth set, Mineola (3-1) leaned heavily on Schroeder, who had four kills in a comeback that tied the set at 18 apiece.

“My mind was racing, but I knew we were going to pull through,” Schroeder said. “I just wanted my team to work hard.”

Colette Maloney (11 kills), Burns (six) and Toni Ondrus (five) were consistent hitters throughout, but it was stellar defense on the back line from Alexa Buongiovanni (10 digs) and Morgan Brady and at the net from Maloney (three blocks) and Meaghan McCaffrey (two) that countered Wantagh’s big hitters.

Wantagh forced the fifth set by controlling the fourth. Saray Corry (14 kills) was a force in the middle and Kayla Rende ran the offense with 42 assists. Wantagh moved libero Rachel McMartin to outside hitter at the start of the fourth, which boosted the offense. She had 10 kills and 34 digs.

But it was fitting that in the Mustangs’ first season in Nassau Class A, a first-time starter made the difference.

“Originally when I was first trying out to make the team, I was thrilled to be offered a position,” Heckelman said. “I’m so happy to have a team that has accepted me so much as one of their own. I’m thrilled to have played with them today.”

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