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Massapequa Takes LI Volleyball Title

It took six years of going to the net, but the Massapequa Chiefs girls’ volleyball team finally came away with the elusive Long Island title.

After winning 14 straight Nassau County championships the varsity squad rose to the occasion, defeating Smithtown East earlier this month and capturing the Class AA Long Island championship. Not only did the Chiefs win the title, but they accomplished the feat with a team consisting of many underclassman and only one returning starter.

Head coach Carol Ann Habeeb-Kiel said she was amazed at what the team was able achieve given the expectations of such a young crew.

“Watching this team grow and exceed all expectations was an incredible feeling,” said Habeeb-Kiel, who has coached Massapequa volleyball for more than 25 years. “This team became a cohesive unit right in front of our eyes. For young people to come together and play as one is really an amazing achievement.”

Senior Justine Abbate led the Chiefs in the title game with 37 kills. But the coach said the team’s success on the court is a product of dedicated practice sessions, with an emphasis on team communication and teamwork.

“We practice hard in order to build an understanding of one another,” she said. “A lot of these girls played together for the first time this year, so it took a lot of practice for them to learn each other’s game. To win, they needed to feed off each other and learn to communicate on the court.”

To reach the championship, Habeeb-Kiel said the team conditioned all year round and worked hard to become one of the fastest teams on any court. She said the team is relatively low on the height spectrum, so speed is of the utmost importance.

If they get to the net before their opponents, coach knows they have a shot at winning.

“Our game is all about speed,” she said. “We have very fast drills and when you practice like that, gameplay becomes second nature. You practice fast, you think fast. We want to out-run our opponents and get to the net faster than they can. We are small, height-wise, but we will beat you to the net.”

The lone seniors on the squad, Abbate and Katie Vedilago, who added 37 assists in the title game, were leaders both on and off the court. Each of them took their teammates under their wings and helped them stay focused on the task at hand.

“It’s hard to keep some of the younger players focused sometimes,” laughed Abbate. “As seniors, it’s our job to get everyone in line and keep the focus on what is important.”

And according to their coach, channeling their natural competitive nature is crucial to success on the court.

“Young people in general are competitive,” said Habeeb-Kiel. “You try to target that competitiveness in a positive way and teach them that it’s ok to be competitive in a way that brings us together, instead of pushes us apart.”

The entire team rallied and came together to bring their coach that Long Island title. Vedilago said it was important to every girl on the team to win for their coach, who she said gives everything she has for Massapequa volleyball.

“To win this for our coach is amazing,” she said. “[Habeed-Kiel] puts so much of herself into this program. She pours every ounce of her being into it and is so selfless. It’s amazing to know that we were able to thank her with this title after she gave us so much this season.”

And though she has many titles under her belt at Massapequa, Habeeb-Kiel said it is always invigorating to watch teams celebrate and jump into a dogpile after a big win.

“Each championship is equally special because it is always a particular group of girls’ first title,” she said. “I hope they take away from this that hardwork pays off. These girls sacrificed a lot this year and to see that pay off is rewarding.”