Nassau Conference A-I has traditionally been a girls volleyball gauntlet. The competition just got tougher.
Due to a decline in enrollment, defending state Class AA champion Long Beach has dropped down a class and will join defending state Class A champion Wantagh and a slew of other contenders this fall in what’s sure to be a race that goes down to the wire.
“It’s anybody’s game, especially with two state champions in the same league,” Wantagh coach Dan O’Shea said. “Knowing that we have that kind of competition level, then you add in Manhasset, South Side, Lynbrook, Mineola and the other teams, it’s a dog fight every game.”
Wantagh enjoyed an unexpected run to a state title in Glens Falls last season. Much of O’Shea’s go-to players graduated, but he returns senior outside hitter Victoria Spencer and is excited about senior setter Debbie Boudouris, who adds an element of speed to the offense.
With less offensive power than in years past, O’Shea said his group will rely on its depth. He’ll turn to multiple players “until we get comfortable or someone rides a hot streak.”
With eight teams capable of playing with anyone in the conference, it’s difficult to envision a team running the gamut. Lynbrook coach Sue Amberge, who took the Owls to the Nassau Class A championship match last fall, said there’s a benefit to losing matches in a conference this deep.
“I don’t care about going undefeated,” Amberge said. “I think you learn stuff from losing points, losing games. Last year, the kids learned a lot and were able to take that knowledge and put it to good use. That’s why we won in the semifinals.”
Lynbrook has the luxury of returning all six starters, led by seniors Amy Carey, Sarah Bahri and Kayleigh Stalter. Opposing coaches laud the Owls for their defense, one which figures to be one of the best on Long Island yet again.
“They’re not willing to just turn around and throw in the towel,” Amberge said. “They are going to be a team that’s always fighting for that point.”
Long Beach is also expected to lean on its defense after graduating three of the best players in program history. Senior setter Maggie Swegler is the leader of an inexperienced team that is expected to receive major contributions from sophomore libero Anna Moller.
Bellmore JFK — led by junior outside hitter Cameron Montalbano — joins the conference after a successful season in Nassau A-II. As does Hewlett and its standout senior outside hitter Kayley Ragazzini.
New Massapequa coach Amanda Ostapow figures to lean heavily on sisters Gabriella and Alessandra Heimbauer. Gabriella, a senior, is back on the outside after a leg injury and Alessandra, a sophomore, also provides some outside punch.
The Chiefs face competition from Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK and Baldwin, which returns three key players — junior Briana Espert, senior Ava Bandel and junior Kaitlyn Trepeta. Coach April Mosca praised the Bruins’ defense, especially the blocking.
Two-time defending county champion Wheatley is the team to beat, but Seaford returns 10 players, five of which are starters. Senior Emily DeVito provides power on the outside for the Vikings, while senior Karyn Schaller and junior Anna Butler anchor the defense.
Four teams — defending county champion East Rockaway, runner-up Oyster Bay, Carle Place and Academy Charter — compete in this small classification. East Rockaway has won three straight county titles.