By Mike Zummo
It was a different kind of Senior Day for the Wallkill volleyball team.
Spectators are not allowed in the gymnasium due to Section 9 COVID-19 protocols so the team couldn’t honor its four seniors and their parents on the Borden G. Middle School gymnasium floor.
So they did the next best thing and took the ceremony outside for the team’s seniors – Erin Oakes, Ava Wallingford, Kaleigh Nafey and Allison Kebabjian.
“(The parents) have been watching their daughters on the live stream this whole season, so it was really nice for them to be able to celebrate together outside (April 12) prior to our game,” Wallkill coach Julie Michella said. “For them to have this, a chance to play their season throughout all that’s happening this year is just a big gift and I thought we all – myself included – it just really makes our day to come to practice and go to our games because school was hard this year.”
After the ceremony, the families, who were unable to come into the gym were forced to retreat to their electronic devices to watch the livestream of the Panthers’ 3-2 win over the Highland Huskies.
The Panthers got off to a slow start, dropping two of the first three sets, 21-25, 25-15 and 20-25, before they rallied to beat the Huskies’ 25-11, 25-19, in the final two sets.
Wallingford had 11 kills and six digs, Oakes had eight kills and two blocks, Kebabjian had 17 assists and Nafey added nine service points and three digs.
“Highland was much improved from last year,” Michella said. “They served and passed a lot better than I’ve seen them and they came back aggressively against us. We played a little bit different of a lineup for Senior Night. I think from some of the emotions, we started off the match slow. Then by sets 4 and five, we started playing more of our type of game.”
Prior to March, the Panthers had last played in mid-November 2019 when they were eliminated by Cornwall in the Section 9 Class A championship match. Then, the pandemic hit the following March and while volleyball teams were expected to get clearance to play in September, but the New York State Dept. of Health named volleyball a high-risk sport and the New York State Public High School Athletic Association postponed the sport to March.
Things looked bleak until basketball teams were deemed allowed to play for a month-long February season.
“They were very disappointed when things were completely canceled in the fall and we were really hoping that the numbers were getting better and we may finally have a chance,” Michella said. “Then when we finally got approved, they were just ecstatic and it’s not exactly the same.”
The Panthers moved to Borden Middle School for the season, where they only had one net for practice and a smaller gymnasium. Plus, they had to contend with the COVID-19 protocols, being required to wear masks.
They have been successful on the court, running a 7-3 record through last Thursday. They lost two matches to the Mount Academy, and suffered another loss to Millbrook, all Mid-Hudson Athletic League powers.
“Mount Academy and Millbrook are both phenomenal teams,” Michella said. “The Mount academy has great athletes. They hit the ball really hard and they’re well coached, and the same with Millbrook. They’re young and well-coached and have greatly skilled athletes.”
The regular season ended on Friday, and with the departer of the team’s four seniors, Michella also used the short spring season to evaluate the talent that will returning in the fall, which is schedule to begin in just four short months.
“Now that we are approved for playing, a lot of our preparation can really begin,” Michella said. “We didn’t have a much preparation as we would normally have before this season because of the limitations and not being able to play inside. So, I’m ready to start working with these younger players to help us get ready for next fall.”