Pinelands and Southern Regional High Schools May Meet in Shore Conference Girls Volleyball Tourney Semifinals

Match Would Feature A South and B South Champs
Oct 25, 2017

Two Southern Ocean County high school girls volleyball teams had success in the first round of the Shore Conference Tournament last week, setting up a potential “super match” this Thursday.

Southern Regional, the two-seed in the 15-team tourney, cruised over Lacey, the 15-seed, on Friday, 25-12, 25-9. The scoring at the net for the Rams was widely distributed, as indicated by the fact that senior Lauren Cruse led the team with just five kills. Southern dominated the match due to action at the service line, with sophomore Riley Vaughn recording 11 service points including five aces while freshman Stephanie Soares contributed seven service points, five of which were aces, along with 15 assists and five digs.

Pinelands Regional, the tourney’s three-seed, didn’t have nearly as easy a time against Brick Township, which was seeded 14th.

The Wildcats lost the first set, and it wasn’t even close, with the Green Dragons prevailing 25-17. True, the set was tied at 15, but then Brick Township went on a roll to put it away.

The homestanding Wildcats appeared discombobulated at the beginning of the second set as well, falling behind 0-4. More importantly, they eventually trailed 20-22. It looked as if the Shore Conference Tournament might see a major upset.

The possible shocker wasn’t totally unexpected, at least not by Pinelands head coach Kathy Bennett. “We got a tough draw,” she told The SandPaper before the match. “Brick is a much better team than a 14 seed!”

The upset never occurred. Junior Kayla Thornton scored a kill and followed up with a service ace to knot the score at 22. Senior Carly Jannsch then ripped two kills in a row (this reporter’s notes memorialized the first with three exclamation points!) to put the ’Cats up, 24-22. After all that sudden firepower, it was a little tip dunk at the net by junior Alexa Houston that gave Pinelands a 25-22 second-set victory. A collective sigh of relief was heard in the Pinelands rooting section.

The third set went back and forth – literally. Brick Township went ahead 1-0. Pinelands tied things up at 1. It was tied at 2, at 3, at 4, 5, 6 and 7. Pinelands did take a 9-7 lead, but a Jannsch kill attempt went long, and the visitors were only one point behind and had earned the serve. But that serve went into the net, giving the Wildcats a 10-8 lead. Brick Township would never again reach a tie, to say nothing about getting an upper hand, with Pinelands prevailing 25-14.

Thornton and Jannsch, as usual (any story about this team is sure to include their names), racked up impressive numbers on Friday. The former had 14 kills, 10 service points including three aces, 11 digs and five blocks while the latter contributed eight kills, 13 digs and five service points including an ace. Senior Jessie Rising did what setters are supposed to do, setting the scoring table with 27 assists.

Of course, offensive stars usually get the most attention in volleyball recaps, but let’s take a moment to recognize four defensive specialists who kept Pinelands in the match before Thornton and Jannsch took off. Senior libero Jillian Williams had five digs and six service points while juniors Kati Coverdale and Tiffany Papa along with sophomore Brittney Houseworth had eight, six and five digs respectively.

But it was junior right hitter Cierra Seals who drove the spike into the hearts of the Green Dragons. She stepped up to the service line when Pinelands was leading 13-10 in the final set and didn’t leave it until the score was 23-10.

Seals, unlike Jannsch, doesn’t have an impressive-looking jump serve. But she puts a tremendous amount of topspin on her heavy sinking serves, so opposing players must practically plant their faces on the floor to stand any chance of a return. She ended up with 15 service points and five aces, four of which came during her late run that broke Brick Township’s back.

Southern and Pinelands will play their second-round SCT matches on Tuesday, too late for the paper edition of this week’s SandPaper (check out the recaps online on Wednesday).

The Rams will host Colts Neck, the tournament’s 10-seed. The Cougars will come into the match with an 11-4 record, with their most important win being a 25-22, 17-25, 28-26 victory over seventh-seeded Freehold Borough in the opening round. It will be the first time the two teams meet this season.

Meanwhile, Pinelands will entertain Red Bank Catholic. The Caseys, seeded sixth, will come into the match with a 19-6 record after easily disposing of Raritan, the tourney’s 11-seed, 25-18, 25-10 in the first round. Pinelands visited Red Bank on Sept. 22 and came away with a 25-22, 25-17 victory.

So, if the seeding is accurate, the Wildcats and Rams should square off in a Shore Conference Tournament semifinal on Thursday afternoon at Southern. What an interesting match it could be if it comes to pass.

Southern currently has a 23-5 record while Pinelands has put 21 wins into the record book against only three losses. Southern is the Shore Conference A South champ; Pinelands shared the B South crown with Donovan Catholic. It is a shame the match isn’t for all the marbles, but Wall was seeded first and the Rams and Wildcats ended up in the same bottom Shore Conference bracket, so they would have to settle for a semifinal match against each other.

Expect a full – and loud – Southern Regional gym on Thursday if the Rams and ’Cats end up facing each other.

— Rick Mellerup

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