BY ANDREW GARDA
It’s been a bit of a roller coaster for Montclair High School’s girls volleyball team. It opened with a victory on the road over East Orange, winning the match 2-1 on Sept. 8, but then dropped the next two matches, 2-1 at home to Montclair Kimberley Academy and then 2-1 to Mount St. Dominic.
So, defeating Payne Tech 2-1 on Friday, Sept. 17, was a step toward getting back on track. As far as head coach Pam Reilly is concerned, though, they still have a lot of work to do.
Reilly felt that despite the win, Montclair let Payne Tech into the match, which resulted in the Mounties having a tougher fight on their hands than they should have had.
The Mounties came out hard in the first set, running out to a 5-0 lead with Jaimee Keys serving. Payne Tech got on the board with back-to-back points before MHS sided out with a Catherine Carlson strike past the Payne Tech defenders.
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After that, Montclair was off to the races, and while Payne Tech scored here and there, the first match was never in doubt, with MHS winning 25-13.
A lot of teams might have packed their effort up for the night after that, but the Lions came out strong in the second match. Montclair did jump ahead 2-0 thanks to a diving return by senior captain Paige Foley that the Lions then put into the net and a big hit for a kill by senior captain Alex Reesch.
However, Payne Tech played tough and disciplined volleyball, and while they didn’t blow the Mounties off the court, they didn’t seem intimidated, either.
Every time the Mounties tied or drew within striking distance of the Lions, Payne Tech would pull away again, remaining just out of reach.
Sometimes it was a great spike or touch hit that carried the point for the Lions, other times it was miscommunication or a mishit ball on the part of the Mounties.
The result was a close loss, but a loss nonetheless, as Montclair fell in the second set, 25-22.
Both teams came back onto the court for the third and final set determined.
Camila Herrera and Reesch scored first for the Mounties with hard hits past the Lions. An ace serve by Keys made it 3-0, and it looked like Montclair was going to roll over Payne Tech just as it had in the opening set.
The Lions shook off the early mistakes, though, and shortly jumped ahead, 4-3. The two teams traded points for much of the rest of the game, with Payne Tech taking the lead for a while and then Montclair rebounding and jumping ahead.
Montclair began to create some breathing room when a Keys ace made the score 18-14. Over the next few minutes, the Mounties would outscore Payne Tech 6-2, with the score reaching 23-15.
Once again, though, Payne Tech rallied and began to chip away at the Montclair lead until the Lions pulled to within a couple points, 23-21.
This time, however, Montclair held onto the lead and won the set — and the match — 25-21.
Payne Tech and Montclair don’t see each other very often, so the Mounties didn’t have much of an idea what to expect from the Lions. Reilly said that while she didn’t know much about the Lions going into the game, she knew they were a tough group after the game.
“They could have crawled in a hole,” she said. “But they dug, they fought back, they scrapped. I keep trying to impress upon my players, once you’ve got a team see or feel as though they can stay on the court with you, they’re not going to stop playing.”
Reilly said that this has been one of the Mounties’ issues this season, that they allow teams they should beat to stay in games. Montclair needs to finish off teams it is clearly better than more effectively, while also showing more of that scrappy, tough attitude Payne Tech displayed on Saturday.
“This team will clearly be the better team, no disrespect intended, but clearly will be the better team and yet allow anybody to play with us,” she said. “We just get into this mental head space, and it’s so detrimental.”
Reilly pointed to the win over East Orange as a good example. Yes, Montclair won the match 2-0, but the coach said the 26-24 score of the first set was an example of letting a team hang around that the Mounties clearly should have blown off the court, as they did in the second set, winning 25-3.
“We are clearly a better team than they are,” she recalled. “I’ll give them jitters, nerves and all that other stuff, but you’re not that nervous to let [them] be 26-24 and then beat them 25-3. That’s ridiculous.”
Similarly, Reilly said the Mounties won the first set against Montclair Kimberley Academy, but then collapsed the next two sets. The team proved it could play with the Cougars in that first set, and then couldn’t get over the hump during the next two.
Reilly is hoping that consistency will come over time. The Mounties took part in the Bengal Volleyball Tournament on Saturday, Sept. 18, and while they didn’t take home first place, Reilly said they had a very good showing during the day.
Reilly is now hoping the team keeps that momentum going as it continues through the season. On Monday Montclair played Belleville and kept their momentum going with a 2-0 win to bring their record to 3-2 (2-2 SEC-Liberty).
Next after that will be a match against Bloomfield, on the road, on Friday, Sept. 24.