GLENS FALL, N.Y. — Katie Steele put the exclamation point on what’s been a rollercoaster of a postseason for the Wantagh girls volleyball team.
The senior’s hit ricocheted off a Niagara Wheatfield defender and fell to the floor, and a celebration that was equal parts anticipation and jubilation ensued. Despite facing a 2-1 deficit, the Warriors defeated Niagara, 23-25, 25-22, 20-25, 26-24, 28-26, to win the state Class A championship on Sunday at Cool Insuring Arena.
Wantagh, which last won a state title in 2001, needed five sets to win the Nassau Class A championship and the Long Island Class A championship, so this was nothing new for the Warriors.
“That’s just how we are,” Steele said. “We always do that.”
“That’s been our season,” assistant coach Susanne Hoffman said. “Every game this season, we’ve had to fight hard. When it came down to it, we knew we’d been in this situation before.”
Wantagh (19-1) led 13-7 when the teams switched sides in the fifth set, but Niagara (22-1-1) later stormed back with a 7-1 run, tying it at 20.
Three straight points from Niagara put Wantagh in a 26-25 hole, but two violations had Wantagh back in front, 27-26. That’s when Kayla Rende assisted Steele for the clinching point.
Grace Riddle had seven of her 30 kills in the final set. Rende and Riddle were named to the all-tournament team, and libero Jill Laino earned most valuable player honors.
“Everyone wants the ball,” Riddle said of her mentality. “That’s something you want. You want to put the ball down.”
Tori Spencer, Julia Pugliese and Danielle Coppola produced in key moments, too. Spencer had four kills during Wantagh’s 8-3 run to clinch the second set and tallied 15 kills in the match.
Struggling to build any momentum in the second set, coach Dan O’Shea opted to shake things up by putting junior Debbie Boudouris on the service line. Boudouris didn’t play much during the regular season, but she became a regular member of the serving rotation in the championship thanks to her consistency.
“We knew we needed a change,” O’Shea said. “We knew we needed something. Every game, we always tell the girls on the bench, ‘You never know.’ She works on that every day in practice and she did whatever she needed to do.”
This Wantagh team was all about sacrifice and playing hard. Steele wasn’t a middle hitter at the start of the season, and Laino wasn’t supposed to be the libero. That was Emily Van O’Linda, who contributed immensely as a defender and hitter in the championship.
But Laino earned the job, and Wantagh was more well-rounded for it.
“I wouldn’t want to be any other position,” Laino said. “To work so hard to finally get here, it’s amazing.
“We knew we were the underdogs coming in. We weren’t that successful last year . . . Now, here we are. We won states.”
Even with all the confidence in her teammates around her, Riddle said she couldn’t believe what they had just accomplished.
“I believed in my team from the start, but this is a dream,” she said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted.”