Column: Riding the wave

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Mamaroneck’s volleyball team celebrates after an ace by Courtlyn Cannon on Oct. 11. At 10-4, Mamaroneck is enjoying one of its finest seasons in quite some time. Photo/Mike Smith

Watching the Mamaroneck volleyball team down Hastings on Oct. 11, I was struck by something as the points flew by. There was something about the Tiger team that was eye-catching. But it wasn’t their serves, sets or spikes that had me transfixed, it was something else entirely. It was more like a vibe, an energy that only comes around once a team starts to turn a corner.

There’s something exciting that happens when things start to click for a team. But it’s not always easy to explain. With the Tigers, you could see it happening even when the ball wasn’t in play. With unique post-ace celebratory leaps, constant chatter, it was apparent that this is a team that enjoys playing together.

And why shouldn’t they be enjoying the moment? At 10-4 the Tigers are on their way to their first winning season in quite some time.

Perhaps, however, it is that futility, the pain—or apathy—in the lean years of a program that make the winning seasons that much more special. It’s something that’s universal in sports.

With more than a few years under my belt on this beat, I’ve seen these transformations happen before. In 2012, I saw the rejuvenation of both the Mamaroneck and Rye Neck football programs. In 2010 and 2011, it was a volleyball team from Harrison that stepped up to new heights, winning back-to-back Section I titles.

Now, I’m not saying that traditional powers, be it New Rochelle football or the multitude of the area’s top field hockey squads, don’t also feed on momentum and chemistry. Obviously that’s not the case. But there’s an electricity—a giddiness—that surrounds an underdog campaign.

You see it in pro sports all the time. In 2010, after a 10-year postseason draught, the Texas Rangers slugged their way to a World Series berth. Everything about that team screamed good chemistry, from Elvis Andrus’ antics in the dugout to the “Claw and Antler” hand signs the Rangers would perform after big plays in the field.

This year, the Pittsburgh Pirates wrote a Cinderella story of their own, their unbridled joy on the field launching a wave of “Zoltan” hand gestures that swept across the city.

Heck, in 2004, my Red Sox had their own personal good luck charm in clubhouse staple Nelson de la Rosa, Pedro Martinez’ dimunitive side-kick.

Similarly, high school sports rally around their own institutions or traditions. Be it a post-point chant, being led to the field by a player hoisting a sledgehammer or lunch box, teams experiencing a taste of victory begin to believe that maybe they’re wrapped up in something larger.

Maybe the Tiger girls won’t win the section. Maybe the  Rye Neck football team fails to record that signature postseason win. Anything can happen and there are a lot of games to play. But, as long as the ride continues, I urge our local athletes to enjoy it because it doesn’t get better than this.

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About Mike Smith

Mike Smith has been with Hometown Media Group since 2007, serving as the company’s Sports Editor. Mike has been commended for his work by the New York Press Association, winning awards in 2008 for “Best Sports Feature” and again in 2009 as part of a team that put together “The Game,” a breakdown of the Harrison-Rye football rivalry, which won for “Best Special Section.” His weekly column, “Live Mike,” offers his unique insights into a broad range of topics in the sports world. He resides in Eastchester, N.Y. and spends most of his free time serving as the player-manager for a competitive men’s baseball team in New York City. Reach Mike at 914-653-1000 x22 or sports@hometwn.com; follow him on Twitter @LiveMike_Sports.