The day didn’t go exactly how the Pine Bush volleyball team had hoped, but they made it to the furthest point any girls volleyball team can make it to in New York State – the Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls.
“Coach said in the beginning of the season, ‘what’s your goal?’ And we said, ‘well, sections’. Never in a million years would I have thought we’ve have come this far,” said senior outside-hitter, Kaeli Murtagh. “We did it together and I’m really proud of everyone for getting here.”
On Saturday morning at the Cool Insuring Arena, the NYS Final Four teams in Class AA, A and B got set for a long day of pool play. Every team would play a match against the other three teams in their class, consisting of two sets each. After playing six sets, the top two would advance to the championship round on Sunday.
The Section 9 champs had a tough matchup in their first game. They were up against Section 5’s Victor. Pine Bush dropped each of those first two sets 9-25 and 12-25.
Victor would go on to post a 6-0 record on Saturday and advance to the championship.
Next up for Pine Bush was Section 8’s Massapequa.
The Chiefs also swept the Bushmen, 14-25 and 13-25.
“It’s not the outcome that we’d hoped for, but it’s a tremendous accomplishment to get this far,” said Pine Bush Head Coach, Mel Amelio. “Our goal was to win Section 9. Then their goal was to win regionals. We ended up here and fourth place in the state is not too shabby.”
Massapequa earned the other spot in the AA championship, going 4-2 – sweeping Shen and getting swept by Victor.
Pine Bush’s last chance to pick up a win was against Section 2’s Shenendehowa. With both teams winless entering their final match, Shen was able to get two wins over Pine Bush, 15-25 and 16-25.
“It gives them a taste,” Amelio said of having a young team. “Pine Bush has been here six times and we hope the program will continue to grow and that we’ll be a strong competitive volleyball team.”
“They learned to be more of a team. To build on our strengths and to come together to improve on our weaknesses; they’re very resilient. They’ve shown a lot of spirit, dedication and hard work, they all have.”
Heading into the weekend at Glens Falls, Pine Bush owned a record of 17-4. Pine Bush swept Valley Central in the Section 9 Class AA semifinals, 3-0. VC and Pine Bush split their regular season matchups.
Also having split the regular season series with Monroe-Woodbury, Pine Bush got another crack at the Crusaders in the sectional title game, coming away with a 3-2 victory.
“We don’t have one six-foot all-star. We need to all play together and I think that’s what our goal was in the beginning of the season, to come together to be able to do that,” Murtagh said. “We wanted to beat our rivals, Monroe, and overall to grow as a team.”
If they were planning on making the trip to Glens Falls, Pine Bush had to get by the regional round. In front of them was Section 4 champion, Horseheads (25-4-3).
The Bushmen won that match in four sets 25-23, 25-19, 28-30 and 25-18, clinching their spot in the Final Four.
“When I finally realized we were gonna make it, it was crazy,” said sophomore middle-hitter, Monica Ilioiu.
“Our season could have ended in sections. It could have ended in regionals. We kept fighting and were able to make it here and it’s unreal and I’m glad to have gotten to experience it with all these girls.”
It’s not every day you get to experience a Final Four, but at the end of the day, getting there came down to determination.
“Everyone on this team just has so much determination to reach their goals. It’s really empowering playing with these girls,” Ilioiu said.
“It shows how much heart does play, in any game,” Amelio added. “If you work hard enough and have enough heart, you really can do anything.”
Ilioiu knows there will be some big shoes to fill next season, but she’s been taking some notes from this year’s seniors.
“Their constant motivation and constantly being there to cheer everyone on is what I’m going to take from them, even when they might be at their lowest themselves. Every one of the seniors played such a big role for me, especially Kaeli Murtagh. She’ll be down, but she’ll come up to everyone an encourage them, no matter what and I think I’ll take that with me forever.”