Southern Girls Volleyball Looks to Rebound From ‘Sub-Par’ Years
Most coaches and high school squads would be more than happy to have a season like the one the Southern Regional High School girls volleyball team had in 2015. The girls went 18-11, earned the 10-seed in the 32-team New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association State Group 4 Tournament, and advanced to the round of 16. But coach Eric Maxwell and his Southern Regional volleyball teams aren’t most coaches and most squads.
Maxwell has coached Southern’s girls team for 14 years, racking up a 368-87 record. The Rams were the 2008 Group 4 state champs, runners-up in 2009, and advanced as far as the state quarterfinals from 2003 through 2011 and in 2013. They were the Shore Conference Tournament winners from 2006 to 2008 and in 2010, 2012 and 2013 and finished second in 2009 and 2011. Southern claimed the Shore Conference A South title from 2002 through 2014 and has a 235-20 record all-time versus conference opponents.
So when Southern not only failed to make the Shore Conference Tournament finals last year but didn’t keep its A South streak alive, Maxwell was not happy. As the coach put it, he “does not accept mediocrity.”
Maxwell, after two years of what he called “a couple of sub-par seasons in 2014 and 2015 (the 2014 contingent went 16-12),” says “he expects the Rams to improve as the season progresses and feels its future is bright as the Rams look to get back to their winning ways.”
The coach is basing his optimism on a core of returning veterans and a bunch of talented newcomers.
The vets include senior setter Olivia Maxwell, who has 291 assists, 135 digs and 41 serving aces under her belt; another senior setter, Haley Sprague, who has recorded 138 assists; senior libero Sabrina Woodlee, who has 100 digs on her resume; and junior right side hitter Morgan Koeppen.
“Southern’s three seniors will provide valuable leadership, as will juniors Lauren Cruse and Morgan Koeppen,” said Maxwell. “Sprague is slated to handle the setting duties while Maxwell and Woodlee will look to handle much of the passing and defensive responsibilities. Cruse (a middle/outside hitter), (sophomore outside hitter) Sarah Gildea, and (sophomore middle hitter) Kari Klimek will be counted on as offensive weapons at the net while Koeppen’s all-around game is a huge asset.
“I love what I have seen so far from this group. Their work effort is tremendous, and they have an incredibly positive attitude. We have upperclassmen who will help build great chemistry. Our goal is to put athletic players out on the court and ask them to make plays. I want our girls to be aggressive and play with enthusiasm and energy. There are many talented young players beginning to come through our program, so optimism is high for Southern volleyball. Our girls see the success that we are having on the boys side at Southern, and we are getting them to understand what that requires.”
Ah, yes, the boys, the defending state champs, who also climbed to the summit of New Jersey boys volleyball in 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2014.
It is easy to imagine the fiery Maxwell, who has coached the boys team for 17 years, calling out the boys in 2009 – “the girls have won a state championship and finished second in the state and what have you done?!” Now he can flip the situation and challenge the girls.
“This is an exciting time,” said the coach of his 2016 girls team. “It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch the effort, competitive fire and team unity develop this season and for the immediate future of this program.”
Maxwell said St. John Vianney, ranked fifth in the state in the NJ.com preseason rankings, is the Shore Conference favorite. The Lancers aren’t on Southern’s schedule as yet, although they could show up at a yet-to-be-penned-in quad meet in Manahawkin on Oct.1 or a tournament set for Southern’s gym scheduled to tip off at 10 a.m. on Oct. 8. But Maxwell said Toms River South and Toms River North are also Shore Conference challengers. Southern will host TRS this Friday, Sept. 9, at 5:15 p.m., which should be a good indicator of the Rams’ potential. They’ll visit TRN on Sept. 27 for a 4 p.m. match.
— Rick Mellerup