Southern Regional Girls Volleyball Team Makes a Statement

After a Few Sub-Par Years, Squad Seems to Be Back on Track
Oct 04, 2017
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

When the 2017 season opened, Southern Regional High School girls volleyball coach Eric Maxwell set a goal for his team of winning a Shore Conference A South title for the first time in three years after claiming the crown in every season from 2002 through 2014. So far so good. His Rams are undefeated in divisional play at this point, having defeated all of the other seven A South teams while losing only one set against them. That was against Toms River North in a tough, confidence-building match on Sept. 26 when Southern prevailed, 31-29, 29-31, 25-21.

Maxwell also wanted to “get back into the SCT (Shore Conference Tournament) mix” this year, a tournament his girls had won in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013 while finishing second in 2009 and 2011 before dropping out of the picture. Well, his team proved they are definitely in that mix on Saturday when the girls won their very own 2017 Southern Regional Invitational Tournament that featured seven teams – Southern, Wall, Jackson Liberty, Kingsway, Donovan Catholic, Notre Dame and Brick Township.

They not only won the tourney but swept it, going 6-0 in one-set-only pool play before beating the tournament’s 2016 champs, Jackson Liberty, in a two-out-of-three sets semifinal and then prevailing over Donovan Catholic in the championship match.

Jackson Liberty went quickly, with the Rams winning 25-18, 25-14.

But Donovan Catholic certainly did not go gentle into that good night. That was to be expected. After all, the Griffins came into the championship match ranked as the top team in the Shore Conference, with only a 24-26, 26-28 loss to Wall back on Sept. 25 marring an otherwise perfect record.

What wasn’t expected was an exciting match that ranked as among the best this reporter has ever seen covering Southern Regional girls volleyball, and he’s covered it since the program’s very first match in what seems was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

The Rams started quickly, getting off to a 3-0 lead in the first set. But DC fought back, going up 16-11. Southern tied it at 17, but the visitors clawed their way to a 22-20 lead.

But then a Donovan Catholic serve was long, and junior Jess Sprankle followed up with two service aces to put Southern on top, 23-22. Senior Lauren Cruse added a kill, and the Rams needed only one more point to put the match away.

They never got it. The Griffins racked up four straight points to win, 26-24.

It was all Donovan Catholic early in the second set, with the Griffins taking a 12-5 lead. Sports fans, do you remember last year’s Super Bowl, when the Patriots looked like they were toast halfway through the third quarter, heads hanging on their bench? That’s what the Rams looked like on Saturday. Indeed, they looked as dead as Jacob Marley’s ghost.

Then, suddenly, it was only 13-11 Donovan Catholic. The Griffins fought off that challenge, going up 16-12. But in seemingly no time the Rams took a 19-18 lead. Donovan Catholic took a time out and responded, notching things up at 19. The visitors took another time out after falling behind, 22-19, but this time it was ineffectual. Southern put the set away, 25-21, when sophomore rightside Gianna Schiattarella scored a kill right down the middle.

Neither team could get on a roll in the third set, as indicated by ties at 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15, 17 and 18. Finally the Griffins found a rhythm and went up 21-18. But the score was tied again at 22.

Senior Cali Mordi finally clinched a Southern victory with a kill, making the final score 25-23 Rams.

Whew!

Again, this reporter has covered Southern volleyball from day one. Despite all of Maxwell’s state championships – mostly on the boys side although the girls did have one in 2008 – and Shore Conference and A South titles, I’ve never seen him grin so broadly before.

“We’ve had a lot of close matches recently,” the coach said after presenting the tournament trophy to his exultant charges. “We had a tough loss to Fairlawn (25-23, 21-25, 25-27 on Sept. 23), but we’re figuring out how to win them.”

But why the ear-to-ear smile?

“I’m having a lot of fun, and so are the girls,” said Maxwell, whose team is now 16-2. “You can just see the girls have a great attitude; there’s no drama, they’re just having fun.”

The girls are also developing into a top-flight squad. They are very good at the service line, tenacious on defense, and can adapt to defenses at the net. Donovan Catholic, for example, put up an almost unbreakable wall on Southern’s outside hitters, so as the match went on, the Rams made some quick passes to instead score from the middle. The Griffins were caught flatfooted by the change in the game plan.

Southern also seems to have an incredibly balanced team in 2017.

Cruse led the team in kills with six against Jackson Liberty while Sprankle had the most digs with 11, and Stephanie Soares had a fantastic match at the service line with 13 points, including eight aces. But Mordi was the kill leader versus Donovan Catholic with 10, followed by Kari Klimek with seven while Cruse had only one. Sprankle had 10 digs, but Soares had even more with 11, as did Hannah Martin with 12. Sprankle and Soares fought it out at the service line, with the former recording nine service points and five aces while the latter had 10 points, including an ace. But they got plenty of help from Morgan Koeppen (six and three) and Zoe Deakyne (six and one).

No wonder the normally super-intense Maxwell is smiling.

— Rick Mellerup

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.