By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
PLEASANTVILLE — To be the best, you have to beat the best. For years, Absegami has dominated Cape-Atlantic League girls volleyball. But the tides turned this fall.
Pleasantville staged a late rally to win, 27-25, on Wednesday afternoon in the second game to clinch a 2-0 victory over Absegami. With just one league game left and sporting a 15-0 CAL record, the win clinched the Greyhounds’ first league championship. The victory was Pleasantville’s second of the season over Absegami, which had lost just one league game ever coming into this season.
“Absegami is absolutely the gold standard. They’ve been CAL champions ever since there has been a CAL,” said Pleasantville coach Jim Bucko. “Our girls have been scratching and fighting all year. We’ve been down at times, but they just keep coming back. They never quit, and they just wouldn’t be denied. This was our goal from the very beginning. We knew we were going to have an experienced team coming back, and this was the goal from the beginning.”
In the first game, Pleasantville (16-1) built an 11-6 lead as Absegami (13-8) struggled with its service. A Braves timeout didn’t stop the Greyhounds from going on a 7-0 run that stretched both sides of the timeout, and Pleasantville extended its lead to 15-9. An emphatic slam by middle blocker Jennifer Figueroa pushed the lead to 20-12. Absegami sliced the deficit to 22-16 with a couple of service points, but Pleasantville sealed the game on a nifty move by Cristal Velez. Velez looked as though she was going to put up a set pass for a teammate, but instead dumped the ball over the net for the game-winning point as the Greyhounds won, 25-18.
The second game was much closer, featuring several ties and lead changes. Annalise Wagner and Olivia Clinkscale had some huge kills to keep the Braves in it, while Figueroa matched their intensity at the net. With the score tied, 25-25, Pleasantville scored after an extended rally, setting up the final play. Anasky Villantoy drilled a serve toward the back right corner, and Absegami elected to let it go, hoping it would be out of bounds. It wasn’t, and Pleasantville erupted in celebration after securing a 27-25 win.
“This means everything to us. Throughout the years we’ve worked hard and progressed. I’m just happy that we got the ‘W’,” Figueroa, a senior, said. “I was really nervous in the beginning of the game, but our crowd really hyped us up and gave us momentum, and we came out on top.”
Senior Nyasia Fowlkes said she was shocked the Greyhounds were able to beat mighty Absegami twice in one season to secure a league title.
“I always thought that we would progress and get better, but to actually make it to the point where we won a championship, I never thought we would get to this point,” she said. “And to beat Absegami, that’s really big. It feels really good to be the new champions.”
“It was really exciting, especially with the crowd really pushing us through it. They really motivated us and I think that’s what helped us win. This is huge for us to win the Cape-Atlantic League championship. This is amazing for us,” added Zayna Tulu, one of eight seniors on Pleasantville’s roster. “We felt like we could beat them again. We’ve always been a family, and we definitely push each other to do better and try harder. The confidence comes from all of us.”
Pleasantville showed its depth and experience, racking up stats all over the floor. Tulu finished with a team-high nine kills and four blocks, while Figueroa added six kills. Fowlkes chipped in three kills and eight service points, while Velez finished with a team-high nine assists.
“This isn’t just a one-person team. We have seven players who play throughout our rotation, we have very specialized players,” Bucko said. “Everyone does their part, from our defensive players to our front row, from outside hitters to setters, they all played amazing volleyball. And you can’t beat Absegami unless you have a total team effort. This is only their third loss in Cape-Atlantic League history.”
Bucko said he was beginning to wonder if anyone would ever dethrone Absegami, but knew that if anyone could, this year’s Pleasantville team had the best shot because of its height and power at the next and its experience on the back line.
“At one point, it seemed like this would never happen because every year (Absegami) kept putting out better and better teams,” Bucko said. “But, four years ago, we had a special group of girls who came out, took their lumps and stayed with it. And their hard work really paid off. I’m so proud of them. This team is very scrappy. It’s a very special group.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN