Pinelands Volleyball Team Beats Donovan Catholic

Wildcats Now Tied for B South Lead
Oct 10, 2018
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

If you thought the 2018 Pinelands Regional girls volleyball team wouldn’t be as good as the 2017 version that shared a B South Shore Conference divisional title with Donovan Catholic and eventually ended up as overall Shore Conference champs, you thought wrong.

Despite losing Carly Jannsch, the Press of Atlantic City’s 2017 Player of the Year, and Jessie Rising, an All-Shore First Team setter, to graduation, the 2018 Pinelands season is starting to look a whole lot like the 2017 campaign.

The Wildcats went into last Thursday’s match against Donovan Catholic with a sparkling 12-1 record including a 9-1 mark in B South play. The only problem was that one loss had come at the hands of the Griffins, who entered Thursday’s contest with a perfect 15-0 record including 10 B South wins.

But the heat was on DC, both figuratively and literally. The Griffs had visited Pinelands last year with a similar divisional lead on the ’Cats and wilted, losing 17-25, 22-25, allowing the winning Pinelands squad to eventually claim a B South co-championship. Could history repeat itself? Meanwhile, it was actually hot in the Pinelands Junior High School gym on Thursday, not quite sweltering but uncomfortable.

The heat may have been caused by a balky air-conditioning system on a warm evening or simply by the number of bodies in the packed stands. But one Donovan fan joked that Pinelands had turned up the thermostat on purpose, shades of the legendary Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach, who used to have the steam cranked up in the visiting team’s locker room.

Whatever. It wasn’t the temperature that doomed Donovan Catholic on Thursday. It was a combination of good play by the Wildcats and some shaky serving by the visitors that resulted in a 25-16, 25-23 Pinelands victory.

Pinelands broke out to a 9-3 lead in the first set. Donovan Catholic narrowed the advantage to 15-12, but the Wildcats went on a 4-0 run to basically salt the set away.

The lead went back and forth in the second set, with neither team able to put together a break-away run. Then, with the score notched at 23, Pinelands caught a break.

It seemed as if Donovan Catholic had taken a 24-23 lead, but senior middle blocker/right hitter Jaycee DeMaria protested, telling an official that DC’s kill had tipped the net’s antenna, meaning it had been out of bounds. DeMaria won her argument, the score turned to 24-23 Pinelands, and the ’Cats put the match away on the next play.

The final score was remarkably similar to that of last year when Donovan Catholic visited Pinelands. Even more importantly, Donovan Catholic’s play in the second set was almost exactly the same as it was in 2017.

DC ended up handing Pinelands eight points due to errant serving in the second set. It is difficult to overcome that many unforced errors.

“When we played them up there (in Toms River), they didn’t miss a serve,” said Pinelands coach Kathy Bennett after the match had ended and her girls were celebrating with their fans. That could have been why the Griffins won that Sept. 14 match, 25-22, 25-22.

But Pinelands didn’t win on Thursday only because of Donovan’s miscues. The Wildcats played a terrific all-around match.

Senior outside hitter Kayla Thornton led the way with 10 kills, 10 digs and seven service points. Junior outside hitter Emma Capriglione added six kills and middle blocker DeMaria was a force at the net with four kills and four blocks. Senior right hitter Cierra Seals contributed 10 service points including four aces. Victoria Pickel, the team’s senior setter, recorded 17 assists while junior defensive specialists Brittney Houseworth and Adrianna Dancisin were a big part of an incredible defensive effort with nine and eight digs respectively.

In other words, Pinelands was strong at the net and on the back row and that’s a combination any coach would enjoy.

“Pickel really stepped in (as setter) this year. She’s really picked up her game this year,” said Bennett. “And our back row has gotten so much better.”

The win vaulted Pinelands ahead of Donovan Catholic in state and Shore Conference rankings. The Wildcats are now ranked as the 13th best squad in New Jersey, the highest the team has ever been in state rankings. They’re also the top team in the Shore Conference and are ranked as the fourth best Group 3 team in all of the Garden State.

The one thing that has changed between 2017 and 2018 is that the Pinelands girls managed to keep their focus after defeating Donovan Catholic this year.

Last year the Wildcats competed in a tri-match the day after their exciting win over their B South rivals. Or should I say the didn’t compete, dropping a match to a tough 13-3 Williamstown team and then getting blown away by a 2-8 Paramus squad. Yeah, that’s losing focus.

On Monday Pinelands hosted a solid 11-1 Colts Neck team and came away with a 25-11, 23-25, 25-15 win. Capriglione had a monster match with 14 kills, three blocks and seven service points including six aces.

The ’Cats shouldn’t get overconfident, though. They’ll visit Jackson Liberty on Wednesday and JL has a 12-3 (9-3 B South) record. Pinelands did beat the Lions, 25-23, 25-19, back on Sept. 17, but remember, that was a home game.

The last thing Pinelands wants to do is to drop out of a tie with DC for a B South title. Not after such an exciting win last Thursday.

— Rick Mellerup


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