Stafford Leader

‘Pretty Good’ Isn’t Good Enough for Southern Girls Volleyball

Sep 08, 2017

The Southern Regional High School girls volleyball team had a pretty good year in 2016, going 16-12.

Indeed, Southern has had three “pretty good” years in a row, going 16-12 in 2014 as well before improving to 18-11 in 2015. Head coach Eric Maxwell disagreed.

“For many programs, these would be pretty good campaigns. But not for the Rams.”

The Southern boys volleyball program is a monster under coach Maxwell, having won six state titles and playing in nine championship games since 2009. But Southern volleyball used to be a two-headed Hydra.

The girls team actually excelled beyond the boys’ record in 2008, claiming a New Jersey State Group IV crown. The young ladies followed that up with another, though unsuccessful, trip to the Group IV championship match in 2009. They also won the Shore Conference Tournament in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2013; and were the runners-up in 2009 and 2011. Meanwhile, they claimed Shore Conference A South titles from 2002 to 2014.

No wonder they don’t think a 16-12 season is “pretty good.”

Maxwell’s first goal is to get the girls back on top of the A South heap.

“It is time to get that title back,” he declared.

That isn’t his only goal, however, noting his girls reached at least the quarterfinals of the State Group IV Tournament from 2003 through 2011, and again in 2013.

“This team wants nothing more than to get back to that level.”

The team also wants “to get back into the SCT mix” this year.

As Maxwell is fond of saying, “The history of this program is impressive, and expectations are always high.”

The coach, who will not accept mediocrity, expects this year’s batch of Rams to improve as the season progresses and feels its future is bright as the team looks to get back to its winning ways. Southern’s four seniors – Lauren Cruse, Morgan Koeppen, Jenna Kulinski and Cali Mordi – will provide the leadership. The juniors, including Sarah Gildea, Kari Klimek and Jess Sprankle, will add their talent to the mix. Koeppen will handle the setting for a solid group of hitters in Cruse, Gildea, Klimek and Mordi. Sprankle, a libero, will lead the service receivers, helped by junior defensive specialists Zoe Deakyne and Hannah Martin.

Other players include junior defensive specialist Tatiyana Ford, junior rightside/middle Macy Gugliemo, junior defensive specialist/outside hitter Halee Houser, junior defensive specialist Kaitlyn Ward, sophomore defensive specialist Kaitlyn Sorbara, sophomore rightside Gianna Schiattarella, sophomore middle blocker Riley Vaughn and freshman setter Stepanie Soares.

“I love what I have seen so far from this group,” said Maxwell. “Their work ethic is tremendous and they have an incredibly positive attitude. We have upperclassmen who will help build great chemistry. Our goal is to put athletic players out on the court and ask them to make plays. I want our girls to be aggressive and play with enthusiasm and energy.

“There are many talented young players beginning to come through our program. So optimism is high for Southern volleyball. Our girls see the success that we are having on the boys side at Southern and we are getting them to understand what that requires.

“This is an exciting time. It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch the effort, competitive fire, and team unity develop this season and for the immediate future of this program.”

Maxwell expects Jackson Liberty and Donovan Catholic to be the favorites in the Shore Conference but he also is looking out for St. John Vianney, Pinelands, Wall, Toms River North and Toms River South. He’s predicting Hunterdon Central, Cherokee and Williamstown will be tough to beat in Group IV.

Southern was scheduled to open its season by hosting Marlboro on Thursday, Sept. 7, followed by an away game at Toms River South the next afternoon. The Rams will return home on Tuesday, Sept. 12 when Brick Memorial rolls into Manahawkin.

— Rick Mellerup

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