by Andrew Garda
When girls volleyball was moved back from the fall to late winter, Montclair High School head coach Pam Reilly and her team just crossed their fingers and hoped that it would actually happen. When the NJSIAA green-lit the season, Reilly then started plotting out all the ways she and the team would be protecting themselves and their families from COVID-19.
What she didn’t plan for was the collision of the girls season with the boys season. The NJSIAA’s intention all along was for spring sports to occur, but there had been several ideas for what that would look like. Schools knew the competition would go deeper into June than was normal, but the start date was unclear.
Most seasons, competition began on April 1, but Reilly and other coaches knew that would be pushed back. They just weren’t sure how far.
Competition in the girls season ends on April 24, while the boys were able to start practicing on April 1, with competition beginning on April 19.
The Mountie girls actually have their last game on April 20, while the boys have their first game on April 19, so in terms of competition, there’s minimal conflict in terms of games.
However, between now and then, Reilly has a lot of schedule-juggling to do, on top of what she already has done.
“The girls get priority right now, because they are in season and the guys are just practicing,” she said. “So, like for one game last week, the girls had a game, so the varsity played at four, junior varsity played at five, and the boys practiced at seven.”
Reilly has had to juggle more players than usual as well, with 109 people signed up for the girls team, which ended up at 35 as they approached the season. The boys numbers aren’t final, as tryouts and practice have just begun, but Reilly said that unlike the girls the numbers for the guys will be lower than usual, and she sees about 16 players when all is said and done.
“Due to COVID,” she said. “I don’t blame them, you have to do what you are comfortable with.”
She said another factor was the shutdown of the middle school program during the pandemic. Not having that running, when it was just gaining steam, has definitely hurt interest on the boys side and caused a dip in the number of freshman players.
Limitations in the gym and on rosters made things a little tough for the girls team, which sits at 3-3, 2-1 in the SEC Liberty. Normally, Reilly would pull some players up from JV for a varsity game if someone was sick or injured, but she can’t do that. So she has a roster of nine players she has had to juggle. The same thing will be true for the boys.
“The fact that we really have nine people means we have no wiggle room,” she said. “I just have to hope nobody gets hurt or sick.”
For the girls, the season has been a bit of a roller coaster, with wins and losses alternating from game to game. Reilly has been proud of her team’s resiliency, as they always bounce back from a tough loss.
She said that the small number of players on the roster has made for a very tight-knit group.
“I call them the Noble Nine,” she said. “There are some of the same issues we have every year, but mostly they stay cool and do what they need to do.”
Reilly said that more than anything, the team needs to realize and acknowledge what they are capable of as they close out the season.
“We have some mental lapses and get down on ourselves,” she said. “We don’t realize how talented we are, and we are working through that. When we show up to play, we can compete with anyone.”
All three wins have come at home for the Montclair girls, and having a small crowd of parents has been a help.
So has the play of the seniors on the team.
Elsa Mila-Wilkotz, Sienna Martinez, Brooke Rader and Hannah Roche have all contributed throughout the season.
Martinez leads the team in kills with 61, while Mila-Wilkotz and Rader have been integral in digging the ball off hard hits. Rader has also notched 94 assists. Roche leads the team in aces with 12 and has the second-most points off a serve with 44, two behind sophomore Jaimie Keys.
The girls now face the final stretch of three games and, potentially, a postseason tournament. The first hurdle was a game on Tuesday, April 6 against Newark Academy.
Once the girls wrap up this last portion of their schedule, they’ll hand the ball off to the boys, who will look to make their own mark this spring.