Monroe captures program’s 1st GMC girls volleyball title


Although its record (19-7) is comparable to many of the state’s best programs, the Monroe Township High School girls’ volleyball team is nowhere to be found in the top 20 rankings.

The reason for that is Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) schools simply haven’t fared well outside the GMC, especially during the state tournament.

Mike Collins, in his third season as Monroe’s coach, hopes that will change but understands the best way for that to happen is if his and other GMC teams improve their win-loss record in the state tournament, which began Nov. 3.

“I believe the level of play in the GMC is gaining ground on the rest of the state,” said Collins, whose team captured the program’s first conference tournament championship Oct. 31 by defeating John F. Kennedy Memorial High School, 2-1 (25-22, 12-25, 25- 20). “This is evident by the [greater] number of teams from our conference that qualified for the state playoffs and by their [higher] seeds. However, as a whole, there is still work to be done to match the level of consistency many programs in other areas of New Jersey demonstrate year in and year out.”

One problem Monroe and most other GMC teams face is that players rarely enter programs with any appreciable experience. “The girls have almost always played other sport(s) for many years,” Collins said. “I try to do what I can to relate their experience the best way I can to volleyball so the learning curve is reduced.”

It’s a bonus when especially gifted athletes, like Sarah McGrath and Kassidy Utheim, join the program. McGrath is an outstanding softball player and Utheim starts for the basketball team, so it was a matter of adapting their natural ability to understanding the nuances of volleyball. McGrath has registered 93 kills and Utheim has 68, which is among the team leaders.

Nicole Van Dzura, who played a minor role on the softball team, has been one of the most important contributors to the Falcons’ success. Stationed in the middle, the senior has a team-leading 113 kills. Just behind her with 112 kills is sophomore Aya Cariaso, a two-year starter who will be important to Monroe’s future success.

Lacrosse player Emily Guerin has played libero for the past two seasons and has a team-leading 50 digs. Another outstanding player is setter Nicole Kauffman, who has registered 413 assists.

Beyond statistics, Collins believes in the total team concept and has adopted a motto for the 16 who dress: “16 as 1,” regardless of their playing time.

“The girls have bought into the process of what it takes to compete and win on a regular basis,” he said. “We have a freshman program, but technically we do not have a true middle school feeder program like some GMC schools.”

Given that fact, it is all the more impressive that Monroe was able to win the conference tournament title this year. Now the table has been set for the Falcons to do even more this season in the state tournament.

The Falcons (14th seed) played home to 15th-seed Kingsway Regional High School in Public Group IV Nov. 4. In another match, 21st-seed East Brunswick High School visited 12th-seed Ridgewood High School.


In the girls’ Central Jersey Group, IV soccer tournament, fourth-seed Monroe edged Franklin Township High School, 1- 0, Nov. 3 to advance to the quarterfinals with fifth-seed Princeton High School Nov. 5. East Brunswick (10th seed) had an easy time with seventh-seed New Brunswick High School, 7-0, Nov. 3 and met second-seed Hunterdon Central Regional High School Nov. 5.

In girls’ Central Jersey Group I action, sixth-seed South River High School advanced to the quarterfinals against Florence Township Memorial High School by a 4-2 margin in penalty kicks after the teams played to a 2-2 tie in regulation. The Rams met Point Pleasant Beach High School Nov. 5.

In Central Jersey, Group II, second-seed Spotswood High School was upset by 15thseed Raritan High School, 2-0.

In boys’ tournament games Nov. 3, fourth-seed Monroe was home to 13th-seed Hightstown High School and sixth-seed East Brunswick played 11th-seed Hunterdon Central in Central Jersey, Group IV action. In Central Jersey, Group II, eighth-seed Spotswood was home to ninth-seed Holmdel High School. And in Central Jersey Group I, fifth-seed South River met 12th-seed South Hunterdon Regional High School.