Everything else was gravy.
That’s what Mineola High School volleyball head coach Hyunah Park said after her team’s thrilling five-set win over Wantagh on Nov. 7 in the Class A final. This accomplishment, winning the county title for the first time in school history, was the giant prize they’d been chasing.
For seniors like the Kenney twins (Caitlin and Elizabeth) and Keira McCaffrey, just winning the counties was a triumph they’d remember forever.
“Honestly, anything we do from here on out, it’s just extra,” Park said. “This is what we’ve been talking about and working so hard for.”
Well, let’s just say the Mustangs apparently decided they wanted gravy. And stuffing. And sweet potatoes, and maybe some cranberry sauce, too.
That’s because in Nov. 10th’s Long Island Championship game against Suffolk champ Sayville, Mineola played perhaps its finest match of the season, crushing the Golden Flashes, 25-9, 25-6, 25-13.
Behind McCaffrey’s 13 kills and six blocks, and Liz Kenney’s 22 assists and nine digs, Mineola raced out to a big early lead and never looked back, and now find themselves in brand-new territory: The state final four.
Mineola (15-2) will now play Burnt Hills/Ballston Lake in the Class A semifinal Saturday Nov. 18 at 12:30 p.m. at Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls.
“We were confident coming in and then we started off so strong, it was unbelievable,” Liz Kenney said after the Sayville win. “I know we were all happy to survive and beat Wantagh, but today we were all about, ‘we have to win.’ We wanted to go to states so badly, and so excited that we’re going.”
The Mustangs are going thanks to two very different victories last week. First against Wantagh, a team it had beaten twice in the regular season, Mineola had to dig as deep as it possibly could.
Wantagh showed toughness and adaptability in grabbing two of the first three sets, putting Mineola on the verge of an upset loss.
In the fourth set, the score stayed close throughout but finally the Warriors arrived on the brink of victory, leading 24-23 putting them just one point away from a county crown.
That’s when Caitlin Kenney refused to let her team lose. In a remarkable few seconds, Kenney made a fantastic dig, then blocked two Wantagh kill attempts and on the third try, blocked another kill try before the ball hit the net on the Wantagh side, giving Mineola new life.
“That was just incredible by her, just hanging in and hanging in and getting that point we had to have,” Park said. “She stepped up exactly when we needed it.”
Given new life, Mineola squeezed out the fourth game, 27-25, and then survived in a frantic final set, 15-11, winning when a Wantagh spike sailed long.
“I tell the kids, we only practice for set 5, that’s what it all comes down to,” Park said. “When we finally won, the girls tumbled to the floor in tears; you knew you were going to be extremely happy or extremely sad at the end of that, and I’m just glad we were extremely happy.”
After that heart-stopping win, the LIC proved to be a walk in the park. Sayville, which had a five-set thriller of their own, had no answers for McCaffrey in the middle.
The 6-foot-1 middle hitter/blocker was everywhere in the match played at Clarke Athletic Center at SUNY Old Westbury, completely flummoxing the Golden Flashes frontline and causing quite a few communication errors as they tried to get around McCaffrey.
“She’s unbelievable when she gets on a roll,” said Mineola senior Ava Murphy. “We know she’s impossible to block when she gets going, and we just keep feeding her and getting her the ball.”
In one stretch of the third set, McCaffrey scored five straight points by herself.
“We had a lot more communication today, and we were emptying out the tank, because we knew if we lost we were done,” McCaffrey said. “To be here doing this with all my friends, and getting to keep our season going, is just the best feeling.”
Mineola’s defense was also stellar, as backliners like Maggie Duda and Alex Fernandez repeatedly dug shots that Sayville ordinarily would’ve scored points on.
“We picked up their tips and their attacks really well today, everyone was completely dialed in and focused,” Murphy added.
And now the Mustangs are just two matches away from the first state title in school history. Call it gravy, call it anything on the Thanksgiving table you want: The Mustangs are still hungry.
Asked if she’s thought about what a state title would mean, Murphy smiled and her eyes glazed over for a few seconds.
“I can’t even imagine that, but by (next weekend) I think I will,” Murphy said with a smile. “We know how close we are to that, and we’re going to spend this week getting as ready as we possibly can be.”
If Mineola wins Saturday’s semifinal, it will play the championship game on Sunday, Nov. 19 at 11:30 a.m.
Live streams of the semifinal and possibly finals game is available at https://www.nfhsnetwork.com/