Southern Volleyball Team Winning Despite Roster Dominated By Sophomores
Eric Maxwell has been an ultra-intense, sometimes even fiery, volleyball coach at Southern Regional High School for some 17 years, so it was rather interesting to see a kinder, gentler Maxwell on display last Friday when his girls team hosted Central Regional.
Did he frown or roll his eyes when his squad committed an unforced error? No. Was he really smiling in a first-set time-out huddle despite the fact the Rams were leading the Golden Eagles, who came into the match with a 1-6 record, by a mere 18-16 count? Yes. Was he questioning officials’ calls? Nope.
Maxwell was serene – not a word this reporter, who has covered the Southern volleyball program, both boys and girls, from day one, would have ever before thought of using to describe him. It was especially jarring in that this was a match Southern desperately needed to win.
The Rams had come into the contest with a 5-5 record. They had gone 1-5 after opening their season with four straight wins. Many of their losses hadn’t even been close; Southern hadn’t won a set in four of its matches.
Well, Maxwell was right to remain calm. Southern ended up winning the first set against Central by a 25-20 count and then cruised through the second set, 25-15.
Junior setter Morgan Koeppen led the way with 14 assists, 11 service points including an ace, and six digs. Sophomore outside hitter Sarah Gildea had an outstanding all around performance, notching a team-leading seven kills, six service points including four aces, and four digs. Senior libero Sabrina Woodlee anchored the defense, racking up 13 digs, many of them being of the diving, knee-pounding variety. Sophomore middle blocker Kari Klimek had four kills and two blocks; 10th-grader Macy Guglielmo added three kills and a block. Freshman Gianna Schiattarella contributed eight digs, three kills and three service points, including an ace.
The stat line shows why Maxwell wasn’t leaning on his girls as much as he has in the past.
“They’re young! We’re playing three or four sophomores at any time.”
Indeed, only three seniors dot Southern’s 2016 roster, and one of them, expected to be one of the team’s leaders, has been out of action since a 25-11, 25-16 win over Brick Township on Sept. 15, at which time the Rams were undefeated.
“My daughter (Olivia Maxwell) broke her hand,” explained the coach. “She’ll be back in a week or two.”
The injury couldn’t have occurred at a worse time. On Sept. 17, the girls participated in a quad match at Williamstown. Southern lost three 0-2 matches that day, and it wasn’t surprising considering the level of competition they faced after losing a senior leader. Cherokee is 8-3 this season. St. John Vianney, the apparent class of the Shore Conference this autumn, has gone 12-2 and is ranked fifth in the state. Williamstown is, like Southern, just a game over .500 so far this campaign, but it had the home floor advantage – and, besides, the Rams almost forced a third set, losing the second 24-26.
So it has been a rough start for Southern, but Maxwell is pleased with his team’s effort.
“They’re a fantastic group, they’re nice to coach, and their parents have been very supportive.”
— Rick Mellerup