Jaguars building for success in volleyball


Beach volleyball is a popular activity along the Jersey Shore at this time of year, but it has taken on a different meaning for the players on the Jackson Memorial High School girls volleyball team.

“We actually have an outdoor volleyball area with sand at the school,” Jaguars coach Jason Ulrich said. “We are using it because the gym is unavailable this summer while it is being renovated.”

The volleyball space has gotten a little crowded since practices began two weeks ago, with a large turnout for workouts, including 40 girls who are entering their freshman year this fall. That is a good sign for a program that has developed strongly with the help of a junior varsity program that is coached by Ulrich and volunteer assistants Maureen Cromie and Pete Michel, whose dedication and knowledge have been an asset to Ulrich.

Four important players have graduated from last year’s 14-6 Jackson Memorial team that lost three times to state powerhouse Southern Regional High School, twice to Manchester and once to Toms River South.

There should be some solid prospects moving up from a 13-5 JV team that was runner-up in the Brick Township Invitational Tournament, and the rising seniors “are a great group of girls,” said Ulrich. “They are really nice and they are motivated. Many are in camps and clinics and play year-round on club teams.”

Key players are expected to include the Matlock twins, who will be juniors this fall, Courtney and Kimberly, who play in the Jersey Shore Volleyball League.

“Kimberly could make accurate passes and is an excellent server,” Ulrich said. “She served 20 straight points against Brick Township last season. Courtney is an excellent hitter, either as an outside or middle hitter.”

Shannon Evans, a senior, is in her fourth season and at 6 feet tall is a formidable middle hitter and solid blocker.

“She’s very smooth. You can’t rattle her,” said Ulrich.

But this season, Evans will play for the first time without her sister Christa, another towering middle hitter who graduated in June and is embarking on a college basketball career at Rutgers University.

“It will be interesting for Shannon to play without her sister. You always see them together,” Ulrich said.

Also graduated off last fall’s team is outside hitter Marisa Bartone, who has gone on to a college playing career at Albright; setter Dana Hruschka, who was one of the leading defensive players; Brigitte Jean- Louis, a spot starter as an outside hitter who was a good communicator and gave the team strong leadership; and libero Cristina Walz, a designated defensive specialist on the team.

Another graduated player, setter Rachel Mamola, injured her knee the day before the 2010 season opener, but the Jaguars responded and overcame that loss.

Evans is one of five seniors who Ulrich said will be instrumental to what he believes will be another strong season.

That group also includes KeriAnn Kitila, who was a starter as a middle hitter early in the 2010 season, but also played effectively later on as an opposite hitter. Britany Szabo, a spot starter last year, is the only lefty hitter on the team, which means she will be very effective on that side of the net.

Aiyana Delsin was the setter on the JV team the past two seasons and is expected to play a significant role this fall.

Amanda Nasta, the libero on the JV squad the past two seasons, has been cleared to play, and Ulrich said Nasta’s performance is an inspiration to her teammates.

“All they have to do is seeAmanda overcoming her aches and pains [from childhood arthritis] … When players feel badly about any of their pains, they have a different perspective when they see Amanda,” the coach said.

Danielle Murgio, who was hindered last year by a shoulder injury, is expected to contribute at setter. Ulrich said he is also taking a good look at Brianna Roth, a rising sophomore whose family recently relocated from Florida. The coach said the hitter attacks the net and has a jump serve. Kellie Hoyt, a junior who was a setter on the JV team, rounds out the leading prospects on what Ulrich expects to be a deep squad in 2011.