East Meadow vying for top spot

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The final week of the regular season will be an exciting one for the East Meadow girls’ volleyball team as it sits in the driver’s seat toward a conference championship.

The Lady Jets (12-2) are battling with Port Washington (12-1) and Herricks (12-2) in the Conference AA/B/C-II standings and control their own destiny with two matches remaining. The girls visited East Rockaway early this week before their likely winner-takes-all rematch with Port on Oct. 28.

East Meadow swept the Lady Rocks on Sept. 23 before falling in four sets to the Lady Vikings four days later for its most recent defeat. Lady Jets coach Patricia Burnside said her team’s serving has to be better than it was that day if it wants to cross the conference finish line first.

“Port beat us fair and square,” she recalled. “They basically served us off the court and we’ve been working on that since.”

The team has also shown plenty of resilience by virtue of four wins coming after dropping the first set. This was especially true on Sept. 11, when the Lady Jets lost the first and third sets at Herricks before rallying for a pair of 25-21 wins in the last two sessions to escape with the victory.

Two more conference wins will also match the Lady Jets’ record from 2017. But that team didn’t qualify for the playoffs because only the winner of Conference AA2 advanced that season, which was 15-0 Farmingdale. The Lady Dalers topped East Meadow in that year’s season finale.

Last year’s team made it to the postseason with a 5-7 league mark and was eliminated in straight sets by Massapequa in the quarterfinals. But the current roster, which is an even split of juniors and seniors, were unfazed by that result and continued their upward trend.

“The difference is probably having more experience because we have seven seniors this year,” Burnside said. “Everyone has grown up and contributed a lot.”

The senior captain triumvirate of Danielle Hippner, Daisy Delgado and Olivia Castillo, an All-County honoree in 2018, have all made major impacts offensively and defensively this year and can be seen among the Nassau County leaders in most categories. Two other seniors, Jenna Balsama and Amanda Thompson, have combined for over 100 digs.

The 6-foot-2 Hippner, who is also an All-County basketball player, has especially shown tremendous growth this season and is among the best on Long Island in kills (137) and blocks (72). She had just four kills and three blocks in 2017 and improved those numbers to 81 and 42, respectively, last fall.

“She’s growing into her body [and] she’s clicking very well with her setter,” Burnside said. “Plus, she doesn’t play outside volleyball, she only plays in school, so it takes a little longer to get better.”

Junior outside hitter Carly Howell is also having a strong campaign with 84 kills, which puts her in the top percentile in the county.