The full-color posters were hung with care atop the bleachers at Suffolk CCC-Brentwood before Tuesday night’s boys volleyball match. Just like at home matches. Nine faces, nine seniors. Yes, indeed, Eastport-South Manor made itself right at home on a college campus.
The No. 2 Sharks outlasted No. 1 Sachem North, 25-23, 29-27, 17-25, 25-18, in a well-played, intense Suffolk Division I championship match. ESM, which won the state title in Division II last year, advanced to the Long Island championship against the Nassau I winner on Saturday night at LIU Post.
“We found out that the cutoff for Division II was 950 and we had an enrollment of 951,” ESM coach Bruce Stiriz said. “So we said, ‘Let’s win it all in Division I.’ ”
Part of the mission was accomplished against the team that beat the Sharks in 2015, when they also were in Division I, two students over the limit.
“We lost in the county finals to Sachem North in 2015 and when we moved up this year, we were excited and we accepted the challenge,” said Tom Ogeka, one of the nine seniors, who had 14 kills and 11 digs. “All respect to Sachem North. They made it hard for us.”
The Flaming Arrows rallied in each of the three games they lost, pulling to within 24-23 with a 4-0 run in the first game before falling. Game 2 was even tighter, as the Arrows used a 5-1 run to tie it at 23, 25, forcing one team to win by two points. The Sharks survived on a tap-in winner by Quinn Foglia, who had 11 kills, and a block by Colin Nikc, who had 46 assists. North (15-2) won Game 3, but ESM (15-2) scored nine straight points to grab an early lead in the deciding fourth game.
Foglia helped the Sharks build a 16-8 lead before Sachem cut it to 17-14. But Brennen Brandow (22 kills, 13 digs, three aces) helped ESM pull away.
“Colin did a great job putting the ball up for us,” Brandow said. “I just got a good look and fired away. After they beat us in the third game, we did a good job of taking away their big men in the middle. We felt since the beginning of the season that we could beat any team, large or small.”
The Sharks are now hoping to swim in uncharted waters. “We want to be the only school in history to win the state championship for the small schools,” Foglia said, “then come back the next year and win the big schools.”