Sweet 16-0 run for Clarke

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A dominant season that saw Clarke boys volleyball win all 16 matches it played to capture a B3 conference championship ended last Friday following a valiant effort against top seeded Long Beach.

Coming into the road matchup as the underdog against the upper conference team, the Rams had no intention of a leaving with a moral victory, said coach Joe Harclerode. Instead, he said, they intended to give the Marines everything they had.

They came out swinging, jumping out to an early lead in the first set behind strong serving by freshman Umberto Piscitelli. With a large contingent of hometown fans in attendance making themselves heard, Long Beach was forced to call an early timeout to regroup.

“We grabbed their attention right off the bat,” said Harclerode.

Though Clarke led late in the set, Long Beach would ultimately pull it out, 25-23. After a lopsided second set in Long Beach’s favor, Clarke again showed its worth in a neck-and-neck third set that they ultimately lost, 25-22.

While suffering its first loss of the year was disappointing, Harclerode said the strong showing against one of Nassau County’s top teams confirmed what he already knew about his team. “The fact that we scrapped with them for a while and played with them,” he said, “It validated that we weren’t just a good team. It validated that we’re a great team.”

It put an end to what was a very exciting – and historic – season: to Harclerode’s knowledge, he said it was the first undefeated regular season in program history.

And they had to earn it. The victory that clinched their conference championship came on Oct. 25, against a Lawrence squad whose only previous loss was to Clarke one month earlier. In their recent contest, Clarke had to battle back from a two set to one deficit. After winning a back-and-forth fourth set, 26-24, Clarke put the fifth set away decisively, 15-4, to seal the conference title and a playoff berth in front of a raucous crowd representing both teams.

“In the 30 years of coaching volleyball and basketball, it was probably the loudest game I’ve ever coached,” Harclerode said. “I had a headache for two days after. My kids did a good job of bearing down.”

The game was the high point of the season, said the coach. Piscitelli, who was named All-Conference, a rare accomplishment for freshman, finished with 15 kills and four aces. Senior co-captain Lyvan Brioso added 14 kills and junior Tyler Cox had 17 kills of his own. Senior setter Joe Palacio racked up 42 assists over the five sets, senior co-captain Justin Infante chipped in with timely serving while junior Dean Koutsogiannis helped tilt the momentum with a few big hits.

They key to Clarke’s year-long consistency, Harclerode said, was the team’s shared competitive spirit and mutual aversion towards losing.

“The kids played inspired volleyball throughout the year,” said the coach. “Every team every day was coming for us. We had to show up. In 16 games, that’s a lot.”