Stafford Leader Southern Fall Sports Previews

Experience Makes Southern Contender for Girls Volleyball Title

Also Cross-Country, Girls Tennis Outlook
By DAVID BIGGY | Sep 13, 2019
Photo by: Jack Reynolds REACH FOR IT: Senior Gianna Schiattarella and the Southern Regional girls volleyball team may play for another NJSIAA Group IV title this fall.

Stafford Township — As a coach, when your team goes to the NJSIAA Group IV championship and finishes as the state runner-up, you know most things went right. When six players – including four starters – from the squad return for the next season, the expectations are high.

Of course, we’re talking about the Southern Regional girls volleyball program. The expectations rarely get down to a mere “above average” level. Excellence has been the standard, after all, since the program’s first Group IV title in 2008.

“We have made great strides the past couple of years and we expect that to continue,” said coach Eric Maxwell, whose squad finished 31-5 last season. “The girls are improving in all areas of their games and we have a group of very talented players.”

No doubt, the Rams have the tools to make another big run in the state tourney, and very likely will be in the hunt for this year’s Shore Conference Tournament crown, considering they were in the final last year before falling to Pinelands Regional, which also will again be a viable contender.

“We return quite a bit from last year’s team, so the expectations are very high,” Maxwell said. “Our program is finding itself back at the high level it experienced a few years back. We will be ready to make a serious run come late October, early November.”

Again this season, the offense runs through an experienced setter, as junior Stephanie Soares returns to run the offense. Senior outside hitter Gianna Schiattarella again should be among her favorite targets. But Soares has other weapons to whom she can distribute the ball as well, including senior middle Riley Vaughn and juniors Emma Gildea and Rachael Pharo.

The defense and passing game will be led by juniors Madison Gellis, Erin Alegre, Regina Ingling and Adriana Conforti. Sophomores Samantha Hanneman and Corinne Hughes also will be important front-row options throughout the season.

The rest of the squad includes seniors Danielle Bosland and Traude Beck, junior Emily Irwin, and sophomore Summer Davis.

Southern kicked off its season just as expected, cruising past Shore Conference Class A South rival Brick Memorial, 25-16, 25-8 on Sept. 5. Soares dished out 17 assists, as Gildea and Schiattarella each banged down five kills. Conforti and Vaughn each delivered three aces. Pharo hammered four kills and Gellis logged five digs.

“I love what I see from our team,” Maxwell said. “They bring enthusiasm, energy and effort on a daily basis. The team chemistry is evident and there’s a positive attitude in the gym. Our players’ work ethic is tremendous and the optimism is high. This is an exciting time.”

Girls Cross-Country

Set for Next Big Season

With high school athletes, it’s sometimes difficult for an entire team to rise up and be a contender for championships year after year. The Southern Regional girls cross-country squad doesn’t have that issue, and this fall the Rams look every bit like a contender.

“We won the county meet last year and qualified for the group meet with a fourth-place finish at the sectional meet. But we’d like to improve upon our sectional performance and qualify for the Meet of Champions this season,” said coach Jason Capelli.

In losing the team’s top runner from last season, Gianna Citarella, it may seem the Rams are in for a bit of a dip this fall. But that likely will be far from the case, as Capelli’s crew not only returned five of the team’s top six runners but also added a pair of top-notch freshmen who may somehow work their way toward the front of the pack by later in the season.

For sure, Southern is as loaded as ever, with a trio of seniors – Emily Furlong, Jaelyn D’Amelio and Alexa Mulch – leading the charge. Last year, Furlong finished 10th in Ocean County and 16th in South Jersey Group IV. D’Amelio was 17th in the county and 36th in the section, while Mulch finished 23rd in the county and 41st in the sectional meet.

Sophomores Rachel Short (11th in the county and 28th in the section) and Olivia Horton (whose big finish at 22nd in the county meet solidified the Rams’ county title), as well as Vivian Michaels, who made solid strides among the team’s top eight a year ago, also have returned to the lineup.

And then there are Mia Mastrogiovanni and Isabella Wyckoff – two young ladies entering the program with very high acclaim following stellar middle school stints the past two years. Capelli said they “display great promise.”

During the opening weekend, the Rams competed in the annual Cherokee Challenge and posted a bunch of solid times.

“Looking at the results of the Cherokee Challenge, we look pretty strong through our top 10, and I’d like to see more of our athletes challenge for a top-seven spot,” he said. “If we run together and train intelligently, we should be very successful.”

Boys Cross-Country

The Southern boys cross-country squad will be looking to improve following some struggles last year. But with junior Jackson Braddock – who missed much of last season with nagging ailments – back on the course and healthy, and the Rams behind him a more experienced crew, coach Scott Baker’s squad should rise higher this season.

In addition to Braddock, expect seniors Nick Lemley, Dean Bates, Jayant Jani and Ryan Davis; juniors Tim Sincavage, Michael Chandra and Nick Guzewicz; sophomore Baylor Reese; and freshman Andrew Bowker to be among those challenging for Southern’s next four positions.

Girls Tennis

After going 5-14 last season, the Southern girls tennis team should be much improved with more experience. Whether that translates into more victories than last fall remains to be seen, but the Rams are off to a solid start, winning their first three contests.

Still, consistency is the key, particularly in the Shore Conference Class A South division. Coach Howie Madsen hopes his crew can stay that way throughout the fall.

“We returned three starters from last year, and some of our junior varsity players have moved up to fill spots,” he said. “The girls are progressing nicely, and I’m hoping for a .500 season.”

Leading the way at first singles is sophomore Ella Brown, while junior Cristina Ciborowski takes over the second singles spot. Both played doubles positions last year.

In the third singles position is sophomore Gabby Bates, where she was a season ago. Freshman Jayna Dunwoody, once she returns from a preseason injury, may see some time as a singles player as well.

As for doubles, senior Sarah Pampalone and junior Tiffany Ortner make up the first doubles tandem, while juniors Ruthi Gandhi and Erica Scheinberg make up the second team.

After knocking off Pinelands on Sept. 3, followed by another 5-0 win over Jackson Memorial the next day, the Rams finished their opening week with a 5-0 rout of Toms River East. Brown won, 6-1, 6-0 at first singles, while Ciborowski scored a 6-3, 6-1 victory at second singles and Bates cruised to a 6-2, 6-0 win at third singles. Pampalone and Ortner took a 6-2, 6-2 victory at first doubles, and Gandhi and Scheinberg finished with a 6-0, 6-1 win at second doubles.

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