by Andrew Garda
After getting off to a 1-2 start, the Montclair Kimberley Academy girls volleyball team has ripped off four straight wins, beating Orange on the road, and East Orange, Bloomfield and Newark Academy at home.
Head coach Molli Dowd said the recent success has been in part due to finding the right combination of players to have on the floor at the same time.
“We’ve worked on several different rotations since the beginning of the season and this is finally one which we’ve stuck with, and who are the most consistent,” Dowd said after the team swept Bloomfield in straight sets, 25-11 and 25-17, on Friday, Sept. 21. “The communication was good and they looked a little more solid because it’s a rotation that worked for us, so we’re sticking with it.”
The Cougars win over the Bengals had a little bit of shakiness from early in the season, but in the end showed more of the good volleyball the girls have been playing during their streak.
After a dominant first set, the Cougars came out onto the court for the second set a little bit sluggish,falling behind 10-2 at one point.
“I actually thought we were maybe a little bit too casual at the end of the first set,” Dowd said. “We had gotten some easy points from Bloomfield, and I think they’re tougher than that, so our confidence was high, which is good. But I was a little concerned we’d be a little too casual.”
Dowd called a time out to get the team back on track, and they responded with a 9-1 run to tie the set at 11.
“They had to be sort of put to the test to get back down to work, which is what they did, which is good,” Dowd said.
Part of the Cougars success during that run came from hitters like junior Alina Smith and Maira Castro-Conteh, both of whom had seven kills on the day.
Dowd said that the team overall has embraced the new things the coaches are doing and Dowd, who has been at MKA for five years even though she is a new head coach, has found it to be a smooth transition.
“The girls are great, they’ve been so excited and energetic,” Dowd said. “It really comes from them. They’ve done a lot to make this team fun and exciting. They’ve had lots of input into seeing different drills, doing different and more energetic things, it’s been great. They’ve stepped up to the plate.”
That energy and hard work has led to early season success, but the most important thing is to peak at the right time, when tournaments arrive.
Dowd thinks the team will be peaking at the right time.
“We’re feeling like we’re solidifying more each time we have a match, which is good,” she said. “And we’re trying to tweak some things and work on some other things.”
The Cougars had another test on Wednesday, September 26 as they headed out on the road to face Nutley, before playing Millburn — who beat them at home to start the season — away on Friday.