Although it was not the ending they hoped for, the Trumansburg girls volleyball team — playing with heavy hearts all week following the death of their coach’s husband, who was also a teacher in the district — had lots to be proud of, interim coach Scott Miller said.
“It was a great season — any time you can go through a season undefeated it’s something to be proud of. It’s quite an accomplishment,” Miller, the JV coach, said Thursday after the Blue Raiders’ season came to an end in the Section 4 Class C pool-play semifinals at Horseheads Middle School.
Trumansburg, which finished the regular season 17-0 but lost to Thomas A. Edison in last Friday’s Interscholastic Athletic Conference Large School title match, went 0-6 on Thursday in the round-robin sectional semis. The Blue Raiders lost to Oneonta 25-23 and 25-20, to Windsor 25-15 and 25-11, and to Edison 25-17 and 25-19.
The top two seeds in classes C and D all advanced to Saturday’s finals at Watkins Glen High. Windsor and Oneonta advanced out of Class C and will meet at 7:30 p.m.; Tioga and Harpursville will play for the Class D title at 5:30. The day will begin at 3:30 with the Class B final, pitting Owego and Maine-Endwell.
Thursday’s sectional defeat marked the end to an unimaginable week for the Blue Raiders, who found out Saturday that Matt McLennan, 42 — the husband of varsity coach Angela McLennan and a special education teacher at Trumansburg for 16 years — had passed away that morning. The team had all seen Matt McLennan the previous evening at the IAC title match.
Miller took over for Coach McLennan, and said he left the team’s next move in the players’ hands.
“When we found out on Saturday, I knew that this week was going to be a challenge,” he said. “And when I met with the girls on Saturday afternoon, I gave them the option of how they wanted to finish. And their commitment and dedication really shone, because they made the decision to continue and they wanted to keep going, not only for themselves but for Angela and for Matt, and they wanted to show everybody in the community that it was OK to be sad, but that you’ve got to pick everything up and you’ve got to move on.
“We used the analogy all week of putting one shoe on at a time, tying one shoe at a time and stepping into the gym,” he said. “As long as you can make it that far, anything else is possible.”
The squad proved Miller right with a stirring five-set victory over Waverly in the sectional quarterfinals Tuesday night at Trumansburg. The team had every right to be emotionally and physically drained, but it battled back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits to win in front of a loud, supportive group of fans.
“That win means so much, not just for the girls or for coach, but for our entire school, our town and our community,” Miller said. “We’ve never had that much support; we’ve always had great support from our fans, but the town really stepped up and came out to support the girls in this difficult time, and they rose to the occasion.”
While the team was buoyed by the home crowd on Tuesday, playing at a neutral site in the unique round-robin format on Thursday presented a different challenge, Miller said.
“It’s one of those interesting things — if you’ve never been there before, it’s difficult to know what it’s really like,” said Miller, noting that T-burg, the 2011 sectional champ, missed out on the pool-play semis last year after falling to eventual champion Lansing. “We’ve got a very young group … and this is going to be a good experience for them.
“It’s always difficult when you’re away from your own gym,” he said. “In your own gym, you can kind of control that intensity, you’ve got an entire crowd feeding off you. We have great fans and great support, and our fans have been outstanding as far as being at all of our away matches, but when you’re playing at a neutral site like this, it’s hard, you’ve got to create your own intensity.”
Their task got even harder midway through the second game with Oneonta, when junior setter Hayley Sherwood went down after being struck on the forehead by a spike from Yellow Jackets 6-foot senior Brittney Herrick. She suffered a similar injury last year in the sectional quarterfinal loss at Lansing. Following her departure Thursday night, the Blue Raiders were outscored 111-68.
“Any time you lose a starter and one of your best players, it’s a challenge,” Miller said. “In that situation, we asked people to step up, and they did. We have a very deep roster, and I feel comfortable putting any one of our girls in there, and we did have people playing out of position. We changed our offensive strategy halfway through, and the girls adapted and stepped up.
“Obviously, our concern is for Hayley and her safety and well-being,” Miller said, “but we really did have girls step up tonight.”
Miller said that despite not bringing home a league or sectional title, he felt Trumansburg made strides this season after missing out on the second round of sectionals last year. He sees a bright future for the squad, which loses seniors Shawnee Baker, Brianna Cochran and Katie Munson.
“One of our goals was to win the IAC championship, and we fell short on that,” he said, “but we recovered and played well on Tuesday night. … I think the girls showed a lot of heart and dedication (Thursday). They never quit, despite the circumstances.”