Southern Regional Girls Volleyball Team Falls to North Hunterdon in Group IV Championship

Nov 14, 2018

About a month ago, when the Southern Regional and North Hunterdon girls volleyball teams faced off in a regular-season contest, it was evident the two squads were evenly matched, despite the Lions snagging a 2-1 victory. So, when it came time for the Rams and Lions to take the court at William Paterson University for the NJSIAA Group IV championship on Nov. 10, the second-seeded Southern girls knew they had the capability to overcome the top-seeded crew from the other side of the bracket.

“Coach Maxwell has always said we had the ability to get here,” said junior Gianna Schiattarella, who delivered seven kills during Saturday’s 19-25, 23-25 loss to the Lions. “He would point at the banners in our gym and told us we were going to be one of those teams. We loved that idea, but it seemed far out of reach for a while. But as we went through this season, we started to believe we could be here. We had a few struggles this season, but we played really well in the state tournament and belonged here, playing for the championship.”

Unfortunately, in a game that requires positive momentum shifts, the Rams didn’t get enough of them – and two of the negative momentum shifts, at crucial points of both games, were partly the result of several questionable calls by the main official.

The first of the negative shifts occurred some two-thirds of the way through the first game. After Schiattarella delivered a kill to the back-left corner to cut North Hunterdon’s lead to 15-11, a Lions passing error followed by a Schiattarella ace trimmed the deficit to two points. A hit out of bounds by North Hunterdon and a Kari Klimek kill tied the game at 15-15.

Southern briefly gained the lead, 16-15, when the Lions’ Caroline Layding swatted a ball out, but teammate Devon Adamy dropped a ball to the floor to make it 16-16. On the next point, Rams junior Riley Vaughn appeared to make a clear hit on a ball at the net, but the main official ruled it no good, claiming a push on the ball instead of a hit.

Court captain Stephanie Soares, who was facing Vaughn as she made contact with the ball, and Maxwell both argued the call, to no avail. North Hunterdon carried that momentum the rest of the way, scoring eight of the next 11 points, including five straight to finish off the game for a 1-0 lead.

About a third of the way through the second game, after North Hunterdon had fallen behind, 9-5, and chipped away to make it a one-point game, 9-8, another questionable move by the main official temporarily aided the Lions.

A hit by Klimek along the left sideline bounced off a North Hunterdon blocker and out of bounds on the Rams’ side of the net. The original call from the line judge was that the ball dropped out, prompting Maxwell to make a substitution. However, as Maxwell switched players, the main official overturned the original call, stating that Klimek had touched the ball before it hit the floor.

He then blew his whistle and signaled for North Hunterdon to serve the ball. As Maxwell realized this, he went to put the player for whom he had just substituted back onto the court. The main official didn’t allow him to do so, and Southern was stuck with a back-row player up on the front line.

Layding hammered down a kill for the next point, setting off Maxwell. The main official then yellow-carded Maxwell for arguing the call.

“It’s unfortunate. We’re playing against a team that’s really good, and we can’t afford to give away points or have misinterpretations of the rules going against us,” Maxwell said. “In that situation, I was supposed to have the opportunity to put my girl back on the floor. Instead, we have a girl out of position and the official rushing the game along.

“Our girls have worked too hard to be here and play in this match. We can’t have that kind of thing happen. It’s just not right.”

Still, despite the call, the Rams stayed in the game straight to the end. With the game tied at 12, Rachel Pharo scored on a huge block, and senior Sarah Gildea scored an ace to again give the Rams a temporary lead, 14-12. After North Hunterdon tied the contest, a Lion hit out of bounds and a Schiattarella kill again made it a two-point lead, 17-15.

At 18-18, North Hunterdon’s Eleanor Stothoff, who came up with some big points via kill or block throughout the match – and, in general, wreaked havoc for Southern’s hitters –  made a block on Klimek to again give her squad the lead, which it didn’t relinquish.

“Their No. 31 was the difference today,” Schiattarella said. “She had 13 kills and seven blocks last time we played them, but her size is the bigger problem. She’s really high over the net, and with the length of her arms it’s hard to find an angle to get around her.

“This is a horrible feeling right now, but this can drive us for next year. Of course, we wanted to take it now, to win the title this year, because you never know what’s going to happen next year. But we proved we belong here, and I believe we’ll be back.”

Maxwell agreed.

“These girls have battled and fought all season, and we came into today knowing we could play with them, and we did. We were right there with them,” he said. “We lose our seniors and there’s no guarantee we get back here next year, but we have the pieces in place to make another run, and the added experience from this year will help the girls who are coming back.

“I’m really proud of these girls. Our last 2½ weeks have been phenomenal. What this team has done during the past few weeks has been great, and next season the expectations are going to be the same. We want to be back here next year.”

Earlier last week, the Rams earned their spot in the championship by beating Ridgewood, 25-21, 22-25, 25-20, in the semifinals. Schiattarella led the charge with 17 kills and nine digs, while Klimek delivered 10 kills, senior Jess Sprankle registered nine digs, Gildea added two aces, and Soares gave out 28 assists to go along with eight digs. Madison Gellis also had eight digs, Emma Gildea contributed four kills, and Vaughn had three kills and two blocks.

— David Biggy

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