In his 13th year at the helm of the Smithtown West girls volleyball team, coach Deron Brown has high expectations for a program that’s never won a county title. He’s hoping this is lucky No. 13.
“They certainly have the talent,” Brown said, referencing a deep core of players who return from last year’s top-seeded team that suffered a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to fourth-seeded Connetquot in a Suffolk Class AA semifinal. “Either one of us could’ve won that match that night.”
Sally Tietjen, a junior, sister Kasey, a sophomore, and junior right-side hitter Hannah Naja will lead the offense, while Kaylee Troy stands out as a unique libero due to her length. Brown said the senior covers more ground than your typical libero.
Perhaps the Bulls’ stiffest competition comes from Connetquot, which lost to Commack in the county championship match last season. Many in the county considered the Thunderbirds to be ahead of schedule last year, as the expectation was that coach Justin Hertz would have to retool after the graduation of seven players with college scholarships.
“Last year, once we got there, our identity was to grind through matches,” Hertz said. “I would not say we were the most polished team last year. We were gritty and had to play as if we’d been there.
“I feel like they completely have their own identity now.”
Connetquot is expected to thrive off its defense, anchored by senior libero Julia Patsos. Senior Diana Migliozzi returns to set, and senior Kiarra Roth is expected to move from the middle to the outside to provide punch alongside junior Gabby Carere.
Connetquot’s two keys come in a pair of 6-2 junior middle hitters, Kylie Wixted and Katie Hickey. Consistent net defense will be key against Smithtown West and its stable of hitters, not to mention the rest of the competition in Class AA.
Smithtown East will start four sophomores, but coach George Alamia said he likes the maturity they’ve shown during summer camp. Patchogue-Medford, led by senior Caitlin Dellecave, and Bay Shore, led by freshman Sophia DeBonis, could be unexpected contenders. Eastport-South Manor, fresh off a surprise performance in Class A, bumps up to the next level and figures to be competitive.
Defending county champion Commack — led by junior setter Hailey Katz, junior outside hitter Natalie Billet and senior middle hitter Korinn Bischoff — figures to be in the mix as the Cougars look to continue their recent history of success.
Kings Park defied the odds to win a county championship under new coach Luis Sepulveda last fall, and with senior outside hitter Delaney Miller and junior middle Liv Benard returning, the Kingsmen have a strong core back.
East Hampton returns senior Mikela Junemann — one of the top hitters in Suffolk League VI — while Westhampton brings back star three-sport athlete Belle Smith, a senior, at libero. Sayville has been in the mix in recent seasons and could be there again.
This class runs through Bayport-Blue Point, but Glenn got the upper hand in the first matchup on Monday. The Knights won 3-1 behind junior middle Sophia Hadjiyane to start the season on a high note. As always, this is a competitive rivalry to watch this fall.
Senior Viki Harkin returns for Mattituck, the perennial Class C favorite. Pierson/Bridgehampton took the Tuckers down to the wire in last year’s county final (a 3-2 Mattituck win) and could be a threat again.
Ross and Shelter Island are Long Island’s lone Class D representatives. Ross has its first varsity girls volleyball team since 2014, according to athletic director Howard Brown.