By Justin Feil, Packet Media Group
A year ago, the Hillsborough High School girls volleyball team enjoyed one of its best seasons in school history.
The Raiders went 25-5 and lost to just three teams total on the season, but they graduated some important pieces from that group that set a new standard.
“It helps and it hurts,” said Raiders head coach Cheryl Iaione. “It helps because you put the program on the map. In some ways it hurts because sometimes kids think you have to do the same. Every year the team is different. Last year, as well as they did, they didn’t win a championship. Maybe this one will. I don’t want them to focus on last year. I want them to focus on this team’s identity. We think we can play with anybody.”
While some key contributors graduated, there are several players back with starting experience, plus a slew of players who were practicing every day and pushing last year’s starters. They are part of what helped the team improve through last season.
“My subs from last year will fill the slots of kids that graduated,” Iaione said. “We had scrimmages with East Brunswick and Woodbridge. Woodbridge was very big, and we were able to handle their front line. We were able to block and hit well and we’re doing pretty well.
“We had two scrimmages and we won both,” she said. “I thought we looked pretty good. We have a lot of kids that came up from the JV that I knew were coming up.”
Seniors for Hillsborough are: Nicole Alexander, Morganne Bennett, Alex Chedid, Amanda Comeau, Danielle Fanizzi and Genie Michel. Juniors are: Faith Adams, Erika Arendas, Lianna Bruno, Isabelle Gonzalez, Marisa Mazuera, Natalie Minter, Megan Moore, Sydney Townsend and Jordan Williams. Sophomore Hannah Otto could see varsity time as well. Other sophomores in the program are: Jillian Boose, Nathalia Pignato, Nicole Sacca, Kristen Sarik and Emily Wong. Freshmen are: Victoria Brea, Lenah Chedid, Isabel Dima, Bridget Eilers, Claire Hendrix, Gianna LoCicero, Stephanie Marroquin, Amanda Schimmel and Juliana Vierbuchen.
“They got better because they all played club,” Iaione said of her returning players. “Playing and playing together, they got to know each other. They’re a very spirited group. They work hard. They give me everything they have. I don’t know what that will mean for our record, but I know it won’t be for lack of effort.”
The Raiders will again be faced with a difficult schedule. Hillsborough has the chance to challenge itself in and out of league.
“The conference will be good,” Iaione said. “Hunterdon Central, North (Hunterdon) and Ridge, everyone is going to be good. There are going to be teams like us that you have to come to play or you’re going to lose. Hunterdon Central will be good. North lost a lot, but they always find a way to replace. Ridge lost a lot, but they always have good players. I figure we’ll fall somewhere in the middle of the pack.”
Bennett, Adams and Williams saw the most time for the Raiders last year and they will provide some of veteran experience that Hillsborough can rely on in the early going. Hillsborough is looking to see who else can be a big contributor.
“Those lineups will change based on who we’re playing,” Iaione said. “And when I try to get other kids playing time, we’ll rotate kids around. I’m going to try to rotate 10-11 kids. They’re all about the same. They deserve a chance to play. We have six seniors. They’ll all get a shot somewhere along the line.”
Each of the players on the Raiders roster brings her own strengths to the team. If Hillsborough can work out how to fit them all together, they could have another strong year.
“All the kids that are in the mix have varsity experience,” Iaione said. “They all played some. They all got in some matches. They know what it’s all about. I think serving is one of our strengths. When you play a bigger team you have to serve well to get them out of system. We did that against Woodbridge. When we serve well, it’s an advantage. We’re scrappy. We get a lot of balls back. We keep fighting. They respond well. When they don’t play well and I read them the riot act and they react well. They’re a good group of kids. They work together. They’re not flustered. They work their tails off.”
The Raiders are intent to make their good work ethic something consistent all season. It will help them overcome any experience that they lost and have them ready for any team they face. In addition to their regular-season matches, Hillsborough will play in a tournament at Morris Knolls on Sept. 26. It’s still early and the Raiders are figuring out their best lineups and working at improving every day.
“We drill, drill, drill,” Iaione said. “We keep getting better. This is the first year I have them in the weight room. They’re working out with the strength and conditioning coach. We’re working on getting our vertical jump better, our athleticism. We’re working on our communication. And if you can pass well, you can win a lot of games.”
Iaione likes the way that her team has approached the preseason. They have been diligent and have been pushing each other, a key as they try to create their own history this year. There are returning players that know what it took to win, and there are players in bigger roles this year who are ready and motivated to make their mark.
“I think they just love the game,” Iaione said. “If getting better and earning playing time is what they get, then so be it. They enjoy being together. They enjoy themselves. They’re very efficient. They know what it takes. If somebody isn’t doing what they need to, they fix it. That’s what you need. Coaches and managers can only do so much. The desire has to come from within.”
By Justin Feil, Packet Media Group