Pinelands Falls to Donovan Catholic in Girls Volleyballl

Home Loss Makes Bumpy Road to Repeat Division Title
By Rick Mellerup | Sep 17, 2019
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

Little Egg Harbor Township — The anticipation was high last Friday evening when the Donovan Catholic girls volleyball team visited the gym of Pinelands Regional High School.

After all, the Pinelands Wildcats and visiting Griffins developed a big-time rivalry over the past two seasons, battling it out for Shore Conference B South titles and even Shore Conference Tournament championships, which, by the way, the ’Cats had won both times. And both teams came into this match undefeated, with DC boasting a 6-0 record while Pinelands had gone 5-0.

It looked, for two sets, as if it would be another epic battle. Donovan Catholic took the first set 25-19. Pinelands came back in the second, 25-21.

Now, this match was important. True, the Wildcats had lost their first tilt against Donovan Catholic in both 2017 and 2018. But both matches had been on the road. And when the Griffins had to head down the Garden State Parkway later in the fall, Pinelands was able to emerge as the winner both years, allowing them to share B South titles with Donovan Catholic.

Recent history would seem to show a home court win was almost a must if Pinelands is to wear even half a divisional crown once again in 2019.

Given the importance of the match, the Pinelands crowd – and it was much bigger than the DC contingent – was strangely quiet as the third set began, despite a couple of students trying to start a “Let’s go ’Cats” chant. In fact, Pinelands fans had been rather hushed most of the evening, finally waking up in the second set when the home team came from behind to take an 18-17 lead. Maybe it was because the Pinelands football team was playing its first home game of the season against Asbury Park at the same time and some fans felt they should be at the district’s brand spanking new field instead of in the gym. Whatever the reason for the silence, it seemed as if Pinelands fans had meekly surrendered the home court advantage.

Karin Ojeda, Donovan’s junior setter, took to the service line to start the final set and she didn’t leave until her team had an 11-1 advantage. It was all over except for the shouting, with the visiting fans exclusively doing that. The final score was 25-6, DC.

Ojeda was definitely one of the visitors’ stars for the evening, racking up 31 assists, six service aces and four digs. Senior libero Alexis Tamburello also had a great night, what with her incredible 31 digs. Senior Lauren Schailey recorded a team-high 11 kills, which is rather surprising, because she is a defensive specialist.

A defensive specialist leading a team in kill points was not Pinelands’ biggest problem of the evening. The Wildcats seemed tentative, afraid to go for hard kill attempts, wary of painting the sidelines. Many of their kill tries ended up chest high on the hands of Tamburello or Schailey, making their jobs easier. The Pinelands servers, too, were not aggressive, scoring only one ace.

Ciara Rheiner, a junior outside hitter and middle blocker, had a good night at the net for Pinelands, registering eight kills and four blocks. But the rest of the team could not seem to find a rhythm. As already said: tentative.

So Pinelands will have a hard row to hoe when they visit Donovan Catholic in October if they hope to repeat as B South champs. They girls won’t, as was the case the last two years, be playing in front of a loud home crowd when they play the Griffins for the second time.

Maybe things would have been different if the home crowd had been as loud on Sept. 13.

— Rick Mellerup

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