We are running out of words to describe the dominance of our volleyball team. With Thursday evening’s 3-0 sweep of Long Island Lutheran in the PSAA Championship, the Bears added to a treasury of riches they began filling in 2016:
- 3 straight PSAA Championships
- 4 tournament championships in six years
- 7 consecutive playoff victories
- 19 consecutive sweeps vs. PSAA opponents (including playoffs)
- 33 consecutive home victories
- 38 consecutive regular season league victories (school record)
When the Bears surged to an unlikely and thrilling County Championship win in 2016, that team could not foresee the spark they had ignited, especially coming on the heels of a winless season in 2015. The mark of a true dynasty is its longevity, its retention of power over time. Not a single player remains from that 2016 team or the 2017 team that ushered in the first of five straight undefeated League Championship seasons, and only Niamh Scanlon and Ava McCormick remain from the undefeated 2018 team. The players have turned over, and turned over again, but the sun refuses to set on Stony Brook’s volleyball empire. With Lily Middlekauff the only departing senior from the starting lineup, their reign still has no horizon.
On Thursday, the challengers came into Swanson Gymnasium having lost seven straight matches and 21 consecutive sets to the Brook, including last year’s title game. Their motivation was palpable, but it could not prevent the Bears from running out to a 7-0 lead. McCormick began the match with a cagey touch kill and Scanlon followed with an ace. After LuHi failed to return Scanlon’s next serve, McCormick registered another kill to give the Brook a 4-0 edge. A long rally followed and when the ball fell on Lutheran’s side, eliciting a roar from the Swanson faithful, it felt like the Brook had snared some early momentum. A Scanlon ace hit the deck next and, after LuHi could not return her next serve, the visitors needed a timeout to regroup. Out of the timeout, LuHi reeled off six points of their own, including consecutive aces, to prompt a timeout from the Bears. LuHi followed with a service error out of the break and that is as close as they would get the rest of the set.
McCormick followed with another touch kill and Scanlon capped a long rally with a kill of her own. Another McCormick kill pushed the Bear lead to 12-7 and consecutive kills from Ella Middlekauff, one between four defenders, moved the advantage to 14-9. Lilly Keegan, the PSAA regular season MVP, rocked a kill off of a blocker give the Brook a 16-9 lead. The lead mushroomed to 20-11 after Gillian Bernier sent a fireball of a kill over the net. McCormick found deck on a kill (21-12) and Scanlon sent an ace ricocheting off a player and the ceiling to build their first double-digit lead at 22-12. Lutheran responded with three straight points, but an error and a Bernier ace moved the Bears within a point of the tone-setting opening win. A McCormick kill ended it, 25-17.
Scanlon opened set two with a serve Lutheran could not return, but the visitors scored the next five points to take early control of the always important second set. A timeout by coach Allie Kennedy refocused the Bears who would respond with a 19-2 surge to emphatically wrest away control of the match. The run began with a McCormick block. Keegan followed with a kill that flew off a defender and banged into the ceiling. Lutheran grabbed the next point, but the Bears scored the next nine to retake a 12-6 lead. Keegan sent a kill off a blocker and Ella Middlekauff buried a kill in the right corner to knot the set at 6-6. A McCormick ace gave the Brook an 8-6 advantage before Keegan slammed three straight kills for a 12-6 edge. Both sides traded points before Lily Middlekauff took over the serve. Behind three aces from the senior, the Brook ran off the next eight points to lead 20-7. LuHi closed to within 9-21, but Bernier and McCormick combined for three straight kills before LuHi failed to return a serve as the Bears took the set, 25-9.
McCormick began the third set with another kill, but LuHi took the next two points to take their final lead of the match. Another McCormick block and a Lily Middlekauff spike gave the Brook the lead back for good. Another scorching Bernier ace and a Lily Middlekauff kill pushed the lead to 6-2. By this time in the match, every time Scanlon set up Keegan or Bernier for a hit, the sizable student section rose out of their seats and yelled, “Uh oohhh!” Keegan didn’t disappoint the crowd with another big kill for a 7-3 lead. Lily Middlekauff followed with a blistering cross-court kill through the hands of a LuHi defender. Ella Middlekauff notched a block (9-4) and Keegan sent another kill slamming off the ceiling and the Brook had a 10-4 lead. LuHi battled back to within 8-12, but McCormick spiked a ball off the head of a LuHi player and then sent another kill off a blocker before Scanlon buried consecutive aces for a 16-9 lead. Out of a LuHi timeout, McCormick registered another block for a 17-9 lead. Bernier scored a kill on a free ball, but LuHi refused to go down, taking four straight points to close to within 16-20. Keegan responded by sending another kill off a helpless blocker. Consecutive kills by Ella Middlekauff pushed the Bears to a 24-17 lead and the precipice of the title. LuHi found the net on the final rally as the Bears took the set, 25-17 to secure the first PSAA 3-peat since Lutheran won crowns from 2012-2015. Lily Middlekauff was named the tournament MVP.
The victory gives the Bears an automatic bid to the NYSAIS State Tournament. They travel to the Trinity School on Monday in the opening round.