NJSIAA Group IV Girls Volleyball

Southern Regional Girls Volleyball Squad Avenges Regular-Season Loss to Cherry Hill East in State Tourney

By David Biggy | Nov 13, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy Southern setter Stephanie Soares delivers the ball for Emma Gildea during the Rams’ 25-17, 25-19 win over Cherry Hill East in the NJSIAA Group IV quarterfinals on Nov. 9.

Stafford Township — Last fall, the Southern Regional High School girls volleyball team lost a regular-season match against Williamstown and during the NJSIAA Group IV tournament knocked off the Braves in the quarterfinals. On Nov. 9, Cherry Hill East suffered the same fate after defeating the Rams during the regular season.

“Those losses are so early in the season, and we’re always so much better later in the season, when the time comes to play in the state tournament,” said junior setter Stephanie Soares, who doled out 16 assists to help Southern bounce the Cougars, 25-17, 25-19. “The last time we played Cherry Hill East, we didn’t play well. But we’re so much better now. This time, we came out with more confidence and energy.”

Back on Oct. 3 – the last time Southern lost, by the way – the Cougars squeezed out a 25-17, 21-25, 27-25 victory. But on Saturday, the Rams had a better plan to take away East’s big gun on the outside, Leah Pintel. For that assignment, coach Eric Maxwell called on sophomore Corinne Hughes.

After the fifth-seeded Cougars and fourth-seeded Rams played to a 6-6 deadlock through the first 12 points of the match, Maxwell inserted Hughes as part of a blocking tandem with senior Riley Vaughn, who typically covers the middle of the net. In her role, Hughes stationed on the left side to oppose Pintel, who to that point had delivered several of the Cougars’ points.

The move was effective. Hughes came up with a huge block to give the Rams a 13-6 lead, and Vaughn stonewalled Pintel for the next point to put Southern up by eight. The Cougars weren’t able to cut the deficit much the rest of the game, eventually falling behind 21-12 before the Rams closed it out when Soares dumped a ball behind the front line for the 1-0 lead.

“Corinne made some huge touches and got a couple of big blocks that changed the game and their mindset,” Maxwell said. “They weren’t the same after that. They had to change how they attacked our defense. I’m always telling the girls that everybody has to be ready for their moment in a match. It might be for one or two points, but those could be one or two really big points that swing a match for us. Corinne understands what that means, and she proved it today.”

The second game was tight for a while. Southern and East were tied at 16-16 before a Cougars’ serve sailed long to put the Rams up by a point. They won the next two points to make it 19-16 and seize control.

Junior Rachael Pharo later dumped a ball to the left side, and CHE misplayed the ball on two consecutive points to make it 22-18, before Pharo hammered one of her seven kills to make it a five-point match. After the Cougars regained the serve, their next serve dropped long to make it 24-19, before they botched a pass to the front line to give the Rams the victory. Madison Gellis and Erin Alegre finished with 10 and seven digs, respectively.

“We had a good plan for Cherry Hill East today,” said senior hitter Gianna Schiattarella, who during a 2-0 win over 10th-seeded Washington Township on Nov. 7 bashed five kills to take over the program’s career kills record and become the team’s first player to go over 700. Her eight kills against East pushed her career mark to 709.

“They mostly hit crosscourt, so we took that option away, and it worked. We talked before the match about how we weren’t going to lose to the same team twice, and that’s our mindset for the rest of the way. For Riley and me, it was nice to finish the season in our gym with another win. But we don’t believe we’re finished yet.”

The Rams (32-3) will play the rest of the season on the road, starting with the Group IV semifinals on Nov. 13 at top-seeded North Hunterdon, one of the other two teams to which Southern lost during the regular season and the defending group champion, which defeated the Rams in last year’s final. Interestingly, the other team to beat Southern, third-seeded Williamstown, may await the winner in this year’s final on Nov. 16 if it beats 10th-seeded East Brunswick.

“We prepared a lot for Cherry Hill East, and we’re going to be more prepared for North Hunterdon,” Schiattarella said. “They beat us in the final last year and earlier this season, so we’re going to have to be smarter in how we play them this time. We have to come out with more fire and have a good presence at the net.”

Soares said she and her teammates have more confidence and team chemistry than they did on Sept. 14, when they lost to both North Hunterdon and Williamstown as part of a quad match.

“We’ve been close with them, so we know we can beat them,” she said. “They have good hitters, but we have good hitters, too. And our serves have been getting better the past few weeks. We’re a much different team – a much better team – than we were in September. We’re playing at a different level now. We still have to work hard, but we can’t be scared about it. We have to trust each other.”

Maxwell said knowing North Hunterdon so well may benefit his squad this time.

“It’s going to be a battle. No question about it,” he said. “Our girls won’t need any motivation going into the next match. We know what we have to do to beat them. But our girls believe they can play with anybody, and as long as you believe that, you have a shot.”

— David Biggy


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