BY KATELYN BUCHALTER, DISHA DHINGRA, NATALIE GOLDBERG, JAYDEN JUNAID, AND ABIGAIL PERSAUD
Girls’ volleyball dominated Monroe 2-0 in the GMC Championship game on October 25. The match–up served as a revenge game because Monroe had ended the Knight’s undefeated run at 13 games by winning 2-0 on the Knights’ home court on October 10.
The team battled through a back-and–forth first set. Junior setter Julia Mikucki, who contributed 29 assists in the match, totaling 412 this season, said, “I was very nervous at the start of the match because I knew how much the game meant to the whole team and the program. However, once I stepped on the court with the rest of the team, I felt a rush of adrenaline, and we all played with a purpose.”
Eventually, the Knights started to take control. “The highlight of the match was when we were down four points and then gained a lead and a serving run,” said Leena Tran, who scored nine kills and five digs in the victory.
Once they got rolling, the team never looked back. “In the first set, we went on a run serving, run that really changed momentum for us,” explained junior Abigail Jazmin, who contributed four kills, two blocks, and a dig.
Red Division Coach of the Year Andrew Hopman used some well-placed timeouts in the first set to stall Monroe’s momentum and provide some guidance for his players. Senior Victoria Nazarova, who added six kills and two blocks, said, “We also recognized how they played. Then, I feel like we were more aggressive with what we were doing.”
After locking up the first set, the home crowd, the players on the bench, and those on the court really started to let loose. “We drive off of confidence, and that first set really solidified our energy,” said Julia Morgan, who notched two blocks and one kill in the match.
The finals featured one of the top performances of the season for senior outside hitter Sullivan, who had nine kills and four digs. “I knew personally that I needed to step up and be at my best because that’s how we were going to win, and everyone really came and was on their best game,” said Sullivan.
According to Tran, who leads the team with 160 kills this season, the victory resulted from having the right mindset and approach. “The key was 100% mental toughness. We worked on it in practice with Coach Hopman,” said Tran.
After a run of losing seasons, the program turned the corner to go 19-8 last year but fell to rival East Brunswick in the GMC semi-finals and the NJSIAA finals. Nazarova shared, “It feels a little surreal. We haven’t really been used to being recognized as a program and now this year we have been building each other up.”
The team has worked towards this goal, which the girls volleyball team hasn’t accomplished since 2014, all season and beyond. “We’ve been playing together for so long, and it’s an amazing feeling to do this this with some of my best friends,” Sullivan conveyed.
With the GMC Tournament plaque in their possession the team can turn its focus to the NJSIAA Tournament. Sullivan said, “We definitely want to accomplish more this season and we have the potential to do it, and I can’t wait.”
“We’re ready,” said Morgan, who leads the team with 36 blocks this season. “We want to take on any team that comes our way.” The Knights enter the state tournament as the number one seed in in their bracket with an opening round bye. They will face the winner of Marlboro and Bridgewater-Raritan.
Based on their determination and confidence, these girls seem to have a few more runs left in them. “We want to keep pushing to get the job done,” stated Jazmin.
Come out and support the team on Tuesday, November 1 at home in their second-round match-up.
Posted on 10/27/22
Photos and video by Tim O’Neill
Click here to check out our story on the girls volleyball team from 10/7/22.