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Wantagh girls volleyball advances to state final Sunday

Wantagh's Kayla Rende sets up her teammates during

Wantagh's Kayla Rende sets up her teammates during pool play at the state tournament in Glens Falls, New York on Nov. 17, 2018. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

GLENS FALLS, N.Y. — The Wantagh girls volleyball team makes things interesting. It’s not by design, of course.

Sometimes, the Warriors get caught in ruts when they tip or roll the ball over the net. That’s not Wantagh. The Warriors are one of the most powerful hitting teams around, and coach Dan O’Shea wants them to show it.

With setter Kayla Rende orchestrating the offense in pool play of the state Class A tournament at Cool Insuring Arena on Saturday, good things happened. Wantagh went 4-2 in pool play, placing first and securing a spot in the state final at 2 p.m. Sunday against Niagara Wheatfield.

“They had to just be them, and they weren’t them,” O’Shea said. “They were trying to play the style of the other team, and that’s not them. They’re not chameleons; they’re not good at it. They’re good at playing our game.”

Wantagh (17-1) swept Niagara, 25-14, 25-22, to earn its place in the final. Niagara was 3-3 and tied with Cornwall, but because Niagara swept Cornwall in two sets, it won the tiebreaker and advanced.

Rende, whose sets were high and on-target throughout the afternoon session, donned a yellow hard hat after she set Emily Van O’Linda’s clinching point of the final set. O’Shea awards the hard hat each match to the player who works hardest and performs best, and that was unanimously Rende.

“It’s a construction hat, so construction workers work hard, and they work for what they get,” said libero Jill Laino, who stymied the talented offenses of Niagara, Burnt Hills and Cornwall. “It just shows that nothing’s going to be given to us.”

Wantagh, seeking its first state title since 2001, split the first two sets of pool play with Burnt Hills, 24-26, 25-21. The Warriors then split with Cornwall, 25-22, 20-25, before besting Niagara.

Grace Riddle, Tori Spencer, Julia Pugliese, Katie Steele and Van O’Linda all contributed offensively, while the back-row defense was helmed by Laino and Danielle Coppola. Alyssa Albanese provided consistency from the service line.

Rende enjoyed spreading the ball around.

“When the pass is there, it’s so much easier to run the offense,” Rende said. “Everything starts with the first pass, so it definitely takes a load off my back.”

O’Shea said that if his team plays its own style in the final, another state title could be on its way back to Wantagh.

“We need them to be themselves,” he said. “We need them not to be afraid. We need them to just play the way they know how to play — read, react and swing.”

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