Pinelands Regional Wins Shore Conference Girls Volleyball Tournament

But Southern and Donovan Catholic Didn’t Fall Easily
By RICK MELLERUP | Nov 01, 2017
Photo by: Rick Mellerup

The news is the Pinelands Regional High School girls volleyball team won the Shore Conference Tournament on Thursday night at Georgian Court College in Lakewood. The story is that the Wildcats, along with the Rams of Southern Regional and the Griffins of Donovan Catholic, played the most exciting volleyball that night that fans are likely to see for a long, long time. It was a shame any of the three teams had to lose.

Pinelands, the tourney’s three-seed, and Southern, the two-seed, clashed in a semifinal match that was one for the ages.

The ’Cats got off to 3-0 start and led 6-2, 14-11 and, most importantly, 23-18. Southern had never led at that point. Coach Eric Maxwell called time out and apparently sprinkled his girls with magic dust because the Rams scored the next seven points to take the first set, 25-23.

Pinelands senior Carly Jannsch put on her game face – she was one determined looking young woman – as she approached the service line to start the second stanza. In a matter of minutes, Pinelands led 10-0. Jannsch would end up recording 16 service points including nine kills for the match; six of those aces came during that streak.

Southern chipped into the Wildcats’ lead and trailed, 16-12, but Pinelands extended that lead to 19-12. Then the Rams put on another run and, by gum, took a 24-23 lead. It was looking as if the ’Cats couldn’t stand success.

This time it was Pinelands coach Kathy Bennett who called time out and pulled a vial of fairy dust out of her hat. Jannsch scored with a hard kill and a fist pump to knot the score and followed up with another to put her team on top. Southern fans were muttering, “Keep the ball away from her.” The Rams didn’t get that chance when senior setter Jessie Rising ended the set with a service ace.

The third set followed a familiar pattern, with Pinelands pulling out to 5-2, 11-4 and 17-10 leads. But – you guessed it – Southern came back, and it was white-knuckle time for the fans of both teams when the Rams closed to within one point at 22-21 Pinelands.

The Wildcats regained the serve to make it 23-21 and then – who else – Jannsch was serving. An ace put her team one point away from victory, and sophomore Emma Capriglione salted the match away with a block at the net.

Jannsch had 14 kills against Southern to go with her service points and aces. She also had a block, an assist and 19 – yep, 19 – digs. Junior Kayla Thornton recorded a dozen kills, 18 digs, nine service points, two aces, three blocks and an assist. Rising totaled 24 assists, seven service points, three aces, four kills and five digs. Junior Cierra Seals was responsible for three kills, four assists, four service points, an ace and two digs. Capriglione and junior Alexa Houston formed a wall at the net with four blocks each. Senior Jillian Williams had 13 digs as did junior Tiffany Papa, who spent as much time on the floor as a 3-year-old boy playing with a Tonka truck.

Senior Lauren Cruse led Southern with 11 kills, followed by junior Kari Klimek with eight and senior Cali Modri, who also recorded four blocks, with seven. Freshman sensation Stephanie Soares had 28 assists, six service points, three aces, a kill and seven digs. Senior Morgan Koeppen led the Ram defense with 15 digs, and was strong at the service line as well with six service points. Junior Jess Sprankle added nine digs, seven service points and an ace. Junior Hannah Martin contributed eight service points and four digs; sophomore service specialist Riley Vaughn had seven points from the line including two aces as well as three digs.

The Pinelands fans went crazy, absolutely bonkers, as did the team when Capriglione sealed the deal against the Rams. The obvious question: Would the girls suffer a letdown in the championship match that was supposed to follow in 30 minutes?

Donovan Catholic, seeded fourth, had had an easy time in its semifinal against top-seeded and overrated Wall, winning in two sets, 25-14, 25-19. So the Griffins were better rested than the Wildcats, giving them a seeming advantage in the clash between two very equally matched teams.

DC came into the final with a 26-3 record; Pinelands was 23-3. The Griffins had taken the home court advantage and beaten the ’Cats, 16-25, 25-22, 25-21, way back on Sept. 18; Pinelands did likewise when Donovan Catholic visited Pinelands on Oct. 6, with a 25-17, 25-22 victory. No wonder these two teams had to share the Shore Conference B South crown. And who knew who would prevail in a match at a neutral setting?

So Let the

Games Begin

The Wildcats looked no worse for wear at the beginning of their championship match against Donovan Catholic, taking 5-2 and 8-4 leads. But, fitting the evening’s template, they couldn’t stay in front, and DC later led, 19-16. But then Houston had a kill, a Griffin put a kill attempt into the net and Thornton recorded two aces to put her team up 20-19. Donovan Catholic fought back and went up 22-20, forcing a Pinelands time out. It worked – the next Donovan serve went long (think a football team taking a time out to freeze the other team’s kicker before a field goal attempt). But DC then scored on a tip at the net to take a 23-21 lead. Pinelands fans were once again reviewing CPR techniques in their heads.

But then Seals blasted a kill through a block. The Griffins were unable to do the same, with a kill attempt successfully snuffed by Capriglione. The next DC kill attempt sailed out of bounds, and Pinelands was a point away from taking the first set. But nothing was going to be easy for Pinelands on Thursday. A Jannsch kill attempt was too strong, and it was all tied up at 24.

Jannsch immediately made up for her mistake with a booming kill. Capriglione put the set away with yet another block, with Pinelands winning, 26-24.

The ’Cats got off to another strong start in the second set, going up 9-5. But suddenly the Pinelands girls looked tired. Make that very tired! Donovan Catholic rolled to a 25-13 second set victory.

Donovan Catholic scored the first four points of the third set. Was Pinelands cooked?

No. The Wildcats tied things up at 5, and, after a few more ties, took a 12-8 lead, a lead they eventually extended to 20-15 and then 22-16. But of course Donovan Catholic would fight back.

The Griffins put up five straight points to close the gap to 22-21. Jannsch temporarily stopped the bleeding with a hard kill, and in a minute the Wildcats led 24-22, just one point from a Shore Conference title

The girls almost put the match away with a block, but the ball wouldn’t cooperate, sailing out of bounds. DC went on to take a 25-24 lead, and now it was the Griffins who were one little point away from victory. Bennett called a time out for Pinelands.

“In our final timeout, we just told our girls that we have been down before and we will be just fine,” Bennett said later. “Just go out and play ‘Pinelands’ volleyball. The girls responded (Capriglione forced a kill through a block) and Cierra Seals came through with serving and dealt them two aces!”

The final score was 27-25 ’Cats.

The Pinelands fans rushed the floor in excitement, and for good reason. It was the school’s first Shore Conference title since 1984, courtesy of the field hockey team.

Thornton led Pinelands in kills with nine; Jannsch had seven. Capriglione was a monster at the net with 10 blocks and four kills. Jannsch was tops in the digs department with 23 while Thornton and Papa had 16 each, followed by Williams with 10 and junior Katie Coverdale with eight. Rising had her typical all-round match with 20 assists, seven digs, two kills, five service points and an ace.

It was a true team effort at the service line. Thornton racked up nine service points including two aces; Williams added eight and two and Seals six and three.

“Serving is one of our assets,” said Bennett. “When our servers are on, then the rest of the game seems to fall in place. We have tremendous hitting and blocking ability, and our back row has improved a great deal. We are a very versatile team, so we can change our lineup to combat our opponent. Our girls know our system now and what we expect of them, so they now just go out and play the game.”

A couple of things make the Pinelands SCT championship rather extraordinary. One – its varsity program is only four years old. It would seem the girls would still be taking toddler’s steps, not leaping to the top of the Shore Conference heap. Two – the team had to deal with off-court distractions this year because of the construction situation at Pinelands Regional High School.

“The coaches are just so proud of our entire team,” said Bennett. “Our girls put in a lot of hard work in the off-season, summer and during the season. We have had to deal with many obstacles this year with our school being closed over the summer and now again, for the second half of our season. We are on split sessions, and the girls are handling it all really well. They have been fighting through adversity, practicing at weird times, playing in the JHS gym, and traveling on the road for all our scrimmages and weekend tournaments.”

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

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