The sports world is full of maxims, but few are as true as this: It’s more important to finish strong than it is to start strong. That’s certainly been the direction the Kingston High School varsity volleyball team has been heading in this season: a good sign for a team with an eye on the postseason.
The Tigers came into the season with something to prove after beating Orange County Interscholastic Athletic Association powerhouses Monroe-Woodbury and Pine Bush during the 2014 regular season. The Crusaders ended their Cinderella run in the Section IX, Class AA semifinals, and with the graduation loss of key contributors like Annie Cooney, Sarah Baganz and Alex Lawson, the 2015 team was looking to make a name for itself.
After starting the season with four straight losses – including Cornwall and Middletown – the Tigers have begun to come around, winning two of their last three and taking a very tough Valley Central team to five sets before falling. As is sometimes the case, it’s this most recent loss which could be good news for Tiger volleyball fans.
Coming into the game at Kate Walton Field House, the Vikings had won six of seven, and after crushing the Tigers 25-7 in the first set it looked like it might be a quick, lopsided win in straight sets. But Kingston had other plans, winning the next two sets and keeping Valley Central on their heels to the very end in a 25-7, 19-25, 18-25, 25-14, 25-21 result.
Tori Boulay (35 assists, 13 digs, kill), Jaid Harrell (12 blocks, three kills, dig), Suzy Boulay (18 digs, five aces, three kills) and Erica Prindle (nine kills, eight digs, four aces) all contributed.
“This shows so much character to me,” said Kingston coach Nicole Van Loan of her team’s performance against the Vikings. “I am beyond proud. I’m hoping we continue to have this mentality as our season comes to a close, pushing us to our limits.”
Van Loan said that there’s a lot to like about this Tigers team.
“This team has so much heart,” she said. “I tell the girls at the beginning of every season, if you walk away with anything this season, I hope it’s passion. I am huge on promoting high energy on the court. They have to want it to win it, and believe that they can. We absolutely have the necessary skills to win, but volleyball is so much a mental game.”
Unlike some of the league’s perennial powerhouses, Kingston isn’t loaded with players who focus on the sport all year long. But they make up for it in other areas.
“We are an extremely athletic team,” Van Loan said. “Many of these girls simply played volleyball as a second sport. They aren’t playing in travel or club teams. I simply have athletes who are making the necessary adjustments, turning us into a winning program.”
Part of turning into a winning program is overcoming obstacles. For the Tigers, it boils down to consistency, regardless of the opponent or the challenge they present.
“We are continuing to work on a consistent level of play,” said Van Loan. “We often play down to other teams’ levels. Yet when we face more challenging teams, we play to their level. We are searching for that consistency.”
Consistency in effort was certainly there in the Tigers’ first win of the season, a 28-30, 21-25, 25-14, 25-18, 26-24 tooth-and-nail home battle against OCIAA opponent Warwick on Thursday, Sept. 24.
Though two sets down, Kingston never quit, getting big performances from Tori Boulay (32 assists, 13 digs, two aces), Harrell (13 kills, two blocks), Grace Longendyke (11 kills, five blocks), Brianna Robinson (11 kills, 19 digs), Prindle (eight kills, four blocks, 21 digs), Suzy Boulay (30 digs, kill, ace), and Megan Peace (three kills, two digs, assist).
The Tigers earned another key OCIAA win the following day when they hit the road and swept Washingtonville 25-9, 25-14, 25-23. It was another balanced performance for Kingston, with Tori Boulay (eight assists, two kills), Ashley Hintz (six aces, two kills, dig), Emma Guthrie (five assists, two aces, dig), Harrell (three kills, dig, block, ace, assist), Shannon Bonewit (three kills, block, assist, ace, dig), Robinson (four digs, two kills), Ashly Costello (three aces, dig), Longendyke (two kills, block), Megan Peace (two aces, kill), Tori Ost (two aces, dig) and Karlee North (kill).
The Tigers hosted rival Newburgh Free Academy on Wednesday after the Kingston Times went to print. The team’s very long season runs for another month before closing at home against non-league opponent Minisink Valley on Monday, Oct. 26. By then, Van Loan hopes, they’ll be primed and ready to make a deep playoff run.
“These ladies will make it as far as they desire,” she said. “I believe energy and positivity will be the greatest factor. Hands down we have the skills to make it to sectionals. But we want more than that.”