Jags’ volleyball squad shoots for spot in states


The Jackson Memorial High School girls volleyball team, in only its third season, is becoming a consistently competitive team in Shore Conference A South Division.

The team already has clinched a second straight trip to the Shore Conference Tournament and needs one win in its three matches this week to clinch an NJSIAA state tournament berth for the second straight year.

The Jaguars are 10-8 overall and finished 8-6 in A South. They have come a long way from an inaugural season when they were 6- 14 overall and winless in the division two years ago and then finished a much improved 15-11 overall last season, 6-8 in the division.

“We’ve had a big boost from last year,” said coach Jason Ulrich, who has been with the program all three years. “All of our losses are to teams ranked in the top five in the Shore Conference — losing twice to defending state champion Southern Regional, Toms River South and Toms River North and to Colts Neck and Howell.”

Both Toms River North losses and the Colts Neck match went to three games. Against Colts Neck, the Jaguars had an 18- 11 lead in the final game before losing, 25- 23. Southern Regional has never lost a Shore Conference A South match and last week beat Jackson Memorial, 25-20, 25 15.

Jackson Memorial was ranked No. 7 in the Shore Conference coming into this week, with matches against Jackson Liberty on Oct. 19, against Monsignor Donovan on Oct. 20, Lakewood on Oct. 21 and at Marlboro on Oct. 23 in its regular-season finale. The Jaguars needed only one victory by the Oct. 21 cutoff date to clinch a state tournament berth.

The team last year lost its state tournament opener to East Brunswick in two close games. Jackson Memorial won its Shore Conference Tournament opener last year against Point Pleasant Beach and then fell to eventual conference tournament champion Southern Regional.

“We know we can play with Toms River North, Colts Neck and Howell. The two top teams — Southern and Toms River South — on a different level, but we’re right in the mix after that,” said Ulrich. “We respect all and fear no one.”

Teams were seeded on Oct. 19 for the Shore Conference Tournament, which starts on Oct. 22.

Christa Evans, a 6-3 junior, has been a force at middle hitter, using her size and athletic talents that have made her a basketball recruit of many NCAA Division I colleges, including Rutgers and Penn State.

“She’s unstoppable when we can get her the ball,” said Ulrich. Evans, one of the team captains, leads the Shore Conference in blocks and is No. 2 in kills and got her 400th career kill last week.

One player entrusted with getting the ball to Evans is Dana Hruschka, a junior pressed into the lineup when senior captain Rachel Mamola went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and partially torn meniscus before the start of the season.

“She was the heart and soul of our team,” Ulrich said of Mamola, who is a standout middle infielder on the Jackson Memorial softball team.

When it happened, she could have put a brace on it, but I told her to have the surgery because she’s an outstanding softball player and I wanted to see her come back for that season.

“When we first lost her, we were devastated. We did not think we could play without her, and I’ve never coached this team without her. But they pulled together and believed they could win every game,” the coach said.

Give credit for that to Hruschka, who has become the team’s No. 1 setter, and Danielle Murgio, a freshman who is the other setter.

“I was not sure if Dana was up to the challenge, but I told her I trusted her and believed in her. Now she keeps the majority of sets and has taken the role of our lead setter with ease,” Ulrich said.

Joining Evans as a middle hitter is senior Chloe Collins, who leads the team in aces and is second in kills and blocks behind Evans.

“She (Collins) is very level-headed and knows how to rally the girls with her senior leadership qualities,” said Ulrich.

The outside hitters are junior Marissa Bartone at one spot and junior Brigitte Jean- Louis and sophomore Keriann Kipila alternating at the other spot.

“Kipila is a great defensive player and server and has really been important late in the season when people were injured or ill,” Ulrich said.

That includes freshman Courtney Matlock, an outside hitter who suffered a fractured hand a month ago and has just been medically cleared to return.

“To have her (Matlock) back is a big push for our team,” said Ulrich. “She gets off the ground and has a great swing.”

The libero position — the defensive specialist restricted to the back row — is junior Christina Walz.

“We are playing well because we have the philosophy our team is a family, and there will be bumps in the road and many different obstacles, and we overcame them,” said Ulrich.

With only three seniors and players coming up from a junior varsity team that comes into the week with an 11-7 record and a Toms River North Mariners Tournament championship, the future on the volleyball court continues to look bright for the Jaguars.