NEWBURGH – Two years ago, the Spackenkill High School volleyball team brought a special guest on its ride to the New York State tournament.
That guest was a stuffed ostrich by the name of Penelope. The good luck charm.
Penelope wasn’t with the Spartans last year, but made her return this year. Thus, the Spackenkill players attributed their 17-25, 28-26, 22-25, 25-16, 25-13 win in the Section 9 Class B final over Rondout Valley at Mount Saint Mary College on Sunday to their furry talisman.
“We didn’t have her last year and we lost, so we brought her back this year in hopes that we would go to states,” said Nini Sher, who finished with 18 kills, three assists and eight aces.
The Spartans road to states winds through SUNY Ulster, at 3 p.m. on Wednesday. Spackenkill will take on Section 1 champion Westlake in the regional semifinals.
“We’re not going to change anything. We’ve been practicing for a while now, getting ready for postseason,” said Spackenkill coach Cassi Diamond, whose team improved to 17-1.
“We’re just going to continue to do what we’ve been doing, which is really focusing on being disciplined, keeping passes and sets simple and getting productive swings.”
The Spartans were certainly productive in the deciding game, before which they became re-energized. The players sang, danced and jumped in the huddle before icing the match.
Sher couldn’t even recall what the team’s rallying cry was — only the words of Diamond.
“I just remember coach saying this could be our last time together and our last game and our last time on the court,” Sher said. “I think it hit us that we didn’t want the season to end. We love each other, we love playing with each other, and we want the season to go as long as it can.”
Spackenkill jumped out to a 10-1 lead in the final game, not allowing Rondout Valley a chance to generate momentum.
Julianne McKee, whose sister, Brianna, brought Penelope to the team two seasons ago, finished with three kills, 24 assists, two aces and three blocks. Amaya Anderson added eight kills, two aces and three blocks, while Sam Wile had six kills, one assist and two blocks.
Diamond admitted her team struggled at the outset of the game before finding some rhythm.
“We couldn’t find the flow when we needed to early on in the match. Luckily we kind of had some nice moments where we were able to get a sizeable lead in the sets that we won,” Diamond said. “It was really hard until that last set, when we found a little momentum and a little confidence.”
The Spartans hope it carries over to Wednesday against Westlake.
“We’re going to work together,” Sher said, “And leave it out on the court.”
A.J. Martelli: email@example.com, 845-437-4836, Twitter: @AJM_PoJoSports