Southern Regional Girls Volleyball Squad Returns to Top of Shore Conference Tournament Mountain

By David Biggy | Oct 30, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy The Southern Regional girls volleyball team gathers around the championship trophy and banner after defeating Donovan Catholic in the Shore Conference Tournament title match at Georgian Court University on Oct. 25.

Stafford Township — It had been a half-dozen years since the Southern Regional girls volleyball program had reigned as Shore Conference Tournament champions. The recipe heading into the title match against Donovan Catholic seemed like a simple one: bring the heat on the serve and force the Griffins to play great on the back row.

“We were so focused the whole time,” said senior Riley Vaughn, one of a handful of Rams whose serve caused problems for Donovan Catholic as Southern went on to capture SCT title No. 7 with a 25-23, 25-11 victory in the final at Georgian Court University on Oct. 25. “We were engaged the entire match. We worked so hard to win this championship, and we really wanted this.”

Securing the crown all started with the Rams’ services – they scored eight of their 25 points in the second game by way of ace.

“We’ve been serving well, in general, but we know we can put pressure on the opposition and feel capable of doing it against anybody,” said coach Eric Maxwell. “And we know we’re going to serve out once in a while, but we’ve been getting a lot of mileage out of our serve. We saw that Donovan had a hard time passing from the back against our serve in the first game and wanted to keep serving tough. We kept the pressure on them.”

In the first game, the Rams (29-3) and Griffins (25-4) were tied at 4-4 when Southern went on a 4-0 spurt to make it 8-4. The Rams took a seven-point lead, 17-10, when Vaughn and classmate Gianna Schiattarella scored on a double block in the middle, but Donovan began to chip away at the margin, closing the gap to five at 19-14.

Southern went on another 4-0 burst to get within two points of grabbing a 1-0 advantage, but the Griffins clawed back, scoring nine of the next 10 points to make it 24-23. A serve out of bounds by Donovan gave the Rams the first game. That was the last time the Griffins were close.

“Even when they started coming back in the first game, we knew we were winning it,” Schiattarella said. “Even if they came back and won that first game, it would have been a little inconvenient, but we were really confident even if we had to play three games.”

Maxwell made sure to let his squad know that wasn’t an option he was willing to accept, as he showed quite a bit of fire to his crew during the huddle immediately following the first game.

“We survived the first, and we kind of let up a bit,” he said. “But we had to step on the gas. We had to be better in that second game, and the girls responded. They came out guns blazing in the second game.”

After taking an initial 1-0 lead, Rachael Pharo hammered three straight serves which dropped for aces to give the Rams an instant 4-0 lead, and they never looked back. Stephanie Soares later scored a pair of aces to make it 10-2, Pharo added another ace during a 5-1 run to make it 20-7, and Adrianna Conforti delivered a pair of aces as Southern closed to within two points of the title at 23-8. Schiattarella got her eighth kill of the match to drop for the Rams’ 24th point, and a Donovan serve fell short of the net for the win.

Pharo ended with six kills and seven digs to go along with her four aces, while Soares delivered 16 assists, Erin Alegre contributed five digs, Vaughn finished with three kills and a block, and Emma Gildea dropped two kills and recorded a pair of blocks.

“We always stick together,” Vaughn said. “We always talk to each other in the huddle about staying together, no matter what. If somebody messes up, we pick each other up and stick together, and that’s why we pull through.”

Schiattarella said she and her teammates enjoy the game, even while they’re grinding out victories.

“We never get into fights with each other,” she said. “I’ve seen other teams get down on themselves, and it’s sad. But we don’t do that because we’re such a family. We’re here for each other, even when things are tough.”

Things were a little tough at times in the semifinals, but the top-seeded Rams ousted fifth-seeded Toms River South, 25-18, 25-15. Schiattarella led the way with 12 kills, while Vaughn added eight kills, Pharo registered six kills and 11 digs, Soares gave out 28 assists, Conforti added three aces, and Gildea scored on four kills and two blocks. Madison Gellis also had seven digs and a pair of assists.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the gymnasium, second-seeded Donovan Catholic had a tough time with third-seeded Brick Memorial, requiring three games – including an emotionally taxing, 29-27 win in the third game – to advance to the final against a more rested Southern group.

“I definitely thought we had the advantage,” Vaughn said. “Donovan worked really hard for three games against Brick Memorial, and they were a little tired after that match. We had some time to rest, and we were ready. We had beaten Donovan Catholic during the regular season, so I had a lot of hope of us in the championship match.”

Many of the girls on the team remembered what it was like to fall short of last year’s SCT title, when they lost to Pinelands in the final and then ended up as the NJSIAA Group IV runner-up to North Hunterdon.

“We came in with a lot of fire,” Schiattarella said. “We knew we had work to do, and we used those losses as motivation to get better. It’s nice to be able to come back from losing last year to win this championship. Now, our goal is to get back to the Group IV final.”

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