HILLSBOROUGH: Girls volleyball opens states with win

By Justin Feil, The Packet Group
   Taylor Donnellan was confident that the Hillsborough High School girls volleyball team would advance out of the state tournament opener.
   The senior outside hitter had seen the Raiders come through a difficult conference schedule while playing some of their best volleyball at the end of the year. It showed as the 14th-seeded Raiders defeated No. 19 seed Old Bridge, 2-0, Tuesday in the first round of the Group 4 state tournament.
   ”The big thing is we’re in a really hard conference,” said Donnellan, who had eight service points to go with four kills and a pair of digs. “We would be seeded a lot higher. We only lost one game outside our conference.
   ”It pays off now. Even if we’re the lower seed, we can still have a good chance to win.”
   The Raiders are hoping that holds true as they travel to third-seeded Cherokee on Friday for their second-round match.
   ”We’re going to have to play better if we want to beat Cherokee,” said Hillsborough head coach Cheryl Iaione after improving to 15-10. “They’re going to be good, but not better than Hunterdon Central. We know what we have to do to prepare for those type of teams. It’s going to be fun to go down there.”
   Donnellan is looking to extend her final season of scholastic volleyball. A team captain, she has helped the Raiders grow throughout the season.
   ”She’s been big,” Iaione said. “She’s a consistently good server. She’s a senior. She has some experience. Just being a senior and being a captain, it helps.”
   Donnellan knew some of what to expect Tuesday. The Raiders had played and beat Old Bridge last year in the state tournament as well.
   ”Last year we played them away and, so we were the lower seed last year,” she said. “We upset them last year. We had to make sure they didn’t do that to us this year.”
   Old Bridge gave the Raiders an early challenge. Hillsborough edged them, 26-24, to gain momentum.
   ”The defense stepped up and Kristin (Parlato) had a big block to end the first game,” Iaione said. “They’re a very good team and battled back just like we battled back. I told the girls we needed to step up our intensity at the net, especially Kristin. We did.”
   Hillsborough took the second game, 25-20, to advance. Savannah Zhang had 10 assists, seven kills and a pair of digs. Jordan Williams had 11 assists and a dig. Lisa Coetzer delivered six kills and seven digs. Lindsay Scala had a team-high 11 digs. Sydney Gonzalez had five digs. Kari Coetzer had two kills and a dig, while Kimberly Neydon had two kills. Parlato had three blocks and two kills.
   ”It was mostly our hitting was pretty good,” Donnellan said. “A lot of us had aggressive plays. We had a lot of energy and made sure nothing hit the ground.
   ”The deal with our team is having the energy to play, and just talking to each other and working as a team,” she added. “Usually when we win the first game, we get more energized for the second game.”
   Donnellan was on her game as she served up a big run for Hillsborough that helped build a lead over Old Bridge.
   ”That was cool because the other team used both of their timeouts during it,” Donnellan said. “My coach was telling me to serve to the same person.”
   It worked out to enable Hillsborough to pull away from an Old Bridge team that had a solid record.
   ”In some ways it was an upset,” Iaione said. “They were 21-7. We were 14-10. Our strength of schedule gave us the edge, and I told the girls that. We’ve done well outside of the conference.”
   In a final tune-up before the state tournament, Hillsborough defeated a Mendham team that has just three losses. The win in three games gave the Raiders a boost of confidence before states.
   ”We have a good streak going,” Donnellan said. “With Mendham, I think they underestimated us and we made them make a lot of mistakes.”
   Said Iaione: “That was huge. We played really well. We played without Lisa. She was sick. To come up with a big win was a good boost in the arm for us.”
   The Raiders are hoping that they can continue to play well as they look for a big upset in the next round of the state tournament. It’s the only way to keep seniors like Donnellan on track for their big target.
   ”Our goal for the past couple years has been to get a banner for our gym since we haven’t got one,” she said. “We didn’t do well in the country tournament. Our record is better than last year and I think we came together as a team more. There are no problems. Everyone gets along on the court.”
   The chemistry has helped the Raiders to shape themselves into a solid squad. The year began in promising fashion with a win in the Moorestown tournament, and they would like nothing more than to end it with some more wins in the state tournament.
   ”We’re playing well at the right time,” Iaione said. “I think we’re peaking. Our serve has been our big plus all year. Now our serve receive, I said if we could get it in order, we’d be OK. We’ve been passing a lot better the last couple of games and that’s why we’re getting the wins.”