There are two questions for the South Bergen volleyball teams.
Will Rutherford bring home a group title and what other team will break out of the pack?
The Lady Bulldogs have most of their starters back after Rutherford lost to NV/Demarest in the Group 2 title match at William Paterson University.
The rest will try to have a breakout season. Lyndhurst, North Arlington, Becton or St. Mary could be the team or teams to have a successful 2019.
Becton has been one of the best programs in the area and pretty consistent.
The Lady Wildcats finished at .500 in 2018, but lost several starters to graduation.
Becton coach Jessica O’Driscoll does have two of her best starters returning in seniors, outside hitter/middle blocker Jillian Kazska and outside hitter Salome Siradze, who were named to the All-NJIC Meadowlands Division second team. Siradze had eight kills, eight blocks and 12 digs in a three-game defeat at the hands of Hasbrouck Heights on Sept. 10.
One of the keys to the success is the setter. Senior Cecilia Kang had seven assists in the loss to Heights and will be key to the success of Becton.
The other contributors to the Lady Wildcats include senior middle blocker/defensive specialist Julia Konopka, senior outside hitter Jeannette Jimenez, sophomore Francesca Matraxia, junior Arianna Haynes and sophomore Amanda Hasch.
Lyndhurst team has been pretty consistent in recent years, being around the .500 mark.
The Lady Golden Bears’ high-water mark was a couple of years ago at 21-8.
Lyndhurst is looking to be around that .500 mark after two of its top starters (Ariana Lombardi and Angelina DeCoro) graduated from last year’s 15-13 team that went a couple of rounds in the state tournament.
“We lost some key starters but we have some underclassmen that are willing to fill in those roles,” said Lyndhurst coach Steve Vahalla. “We will need to have a powerful offense to ensure we meet our goals of qualifying for the state tournament and finishing the season with a winning record.”
The top player returning is senior outside hitter Rebekah Barnes, who collected All-NJIC Liberty Division second-team honors.
With Barnes the strength of the team is on the outside. Also at outside hitter is junior Kiara Salme. “We have some powerful servers who will also look to disrupt the other teams’ offense,” said Vahalla.
Salme has been the offensive force in the early going for the Lady Bears, who were 2-1 to start the season. The junior had 11 and 14 kills, respectively, in wins over Ridgefield and Harrison on Sept. 6 and 10.
Also back are senior setter Elaina Henning, senior libero Kiara Acta and junior middle hitter Maryann Ijeh, who saw starting time in 2018.
Also expected to contribute are senior right side Samantha Piromalli, senior middle hitter Rebecca Paes and junior outside hitter Jozlyn Marizan.
North Arlington struggled to pick up victories last season, but has come out on fire from the start in 2019.
As of last week, the Lady Vikings were 4-1.
“The girls have experience from last year that will allow us to improve our record,” said North Arlington coach Joseph Cioffi. “We are off to a positive start and want to continue in that direction.”
Part of the success so far has been communication among the players.
“One of the strengths of our team is the family bond that the players are developing,” said Cioffi. “Our team has been establishing connections with each other which have transferred over to the volleyball court.”
A big part of the reason for the hot start is sophomore outside hitter Amelia Kearney, who has been the offensive force for the Lady Vikings averaging about six kills per game.
Another key reason for the start is the setting with senior Marissa Bunnell.
Serving has also been instrumental with sophomore defensive specialist Lauren Velasquez, senior outside hitter Nicole Dean, sophomore outside hitter Zoe Silva, freshman outside hitter Grace Olho and senior defensive specialist/outside hitter Licinia Garica.
Rutherford appears to be fortified for another run at the Group 2 state title game and hopes to bring the championship home.
Rutherford comes into 2019 after collecting a 29-2 overall record last season and is primed to match it.
“Expectations are high after losing in the Group 2 finals last year,” said Rutherford coach Helen Antzoulides, as she heads into her 16th season leading the Lady Bulldogs.
Rutherford only lost last year to NV/Demarest in the Group 2 final and Dwight Englewood in the Bergen County tournament quarterfinals. As of last week, the Lady Bulldogs were 3-0.
Rutherford has four All-NJIC Colonial Division first-team players back – including senior middle hitter Jenna Rogers, who was an All-Bergen County and all-state first-team player. Rogers is back after leading the state in kills with 428 and is on the verge of reaching 1,000 in her career.
The other top players that are back are senior outside hitter Emilia McCarthy, senior setter Mia Capobianco and senior outside hitter Erin Augusterfer.
“Our experience and athleticism is the key for the team this year,” said Antzoulides.
Rutherford is favored to take the Colonial title and could make a run for the county championship.
But in the end, the Lady Bulldogs are targeting a win in the Group 2 championship in November.
St. Mary’s program already has a disadvantage coming into the season.
The Lady Gaels play all of their games on the road since the gym at the Rutherford school is not able to have volleyball games.
St. Mary should be ready to improve in the win category after only a couple of victories in 2018.
“The program only lost two starters from last year, so the team overall will be competitive with in the league,” said St. Mary coach Jamie LoBue, who also is the school’s girls basketball coach.
St. Mary opened the season at 1-1 with a three-game victory over Paterson Charter on Sept. 10.
Like last season, the Gaels will go as far as senior outside hitter Jensen Kraft who was named All-NJIC Meadowlands Division honorable mention. Kraft had 13 service points, eight aces and three kills to lead St. Mary to the win over Paterson Charter.
Along with Kraft, senior middle/outside hitter Marjorie Desacada will be a major contributor to the success for the Gaels. Desacada had three kills, four blocks and three aces in the victory over Paterson Charter.
Joining the combination of Kraft and Desacada a key for the St. Mary success will be its setter, senior Yoahan Sanchez, who had five assists in the victory over Paterson Charter.
The other players who saw time on the floor in 2018 include senior outside hitter Sarah Abdou, senior libero/outside hitter Christina Alberti, junior middle/outside hitter Giuliana Andres, junior opposite/outside hitter Adriana Cabrera, senior outside hitter Lissy Delgado, senior middle Emmalis Diaz, senior middle/outside hitter Elizabeth Kensek and junior middle/outside hitter Alyssa Whalen.
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