Maybe it was the emotion of the moment, maybe it was the late start, maybe it was all of the above or none of the above but, the fact is, that the Hilltoppers failed to open set 1 with any consistency against the Raritan Rockets and played catch-up the entire set.
Although set 1 started slow for the Top, the home side got a kill from Vivian Roberts and a service error by the Raritan Rockets who held a 3-2 lead at that point. A free ball reception error led to three unanswered points and the Hilltoppers were in a deeper hole at 7-2. A few rotations later, SHS gave up another 3-0 run thanks to a Rocket kill and 2 Hilltopper errors and the home side was looking at an 11-4 deficit. But the team started to respond by way of a Hope Basaman kill which gave Sarah Noa the opportunity to put the Raritan squad under duress from the service line and forced 3 RHS errors to close the gap to 11-8. Unfortunately, the visitors were not deterred and responded with a 4-0 run (2 SHS hitting errors and free ball return error) to extend the lead back to a 7 point bulge at 15-8. Two rotations later, the Top got a gift in the form of a Raritan serving error and got a key kill by Alison Wauters, a big block by Eva Oberhuber and an attack error by the RHS side that had the Hilltoppers back in the mix at 18-15. Nothing much changed for the subsequent 2 rotations as the Summit side kept themselves within 3 after a Wauters kill had the score at 20-17 Raritan but the SHS crew gave up 2 aces and added a hitting error to see the visitors take a seemingly insurmountable 23-17 lead. Yet again, a Raritan serving error opened the door for the Top and Basaman took the shot with an ace and 2 more tough serves that led to 2 Rocket errors to keep hope alive at 23-21. Unfortunately, Summit ran out of time as the Rockets closed it out 25-21. SHS scored only 9 points in the set to Raritan’s 13, a major factor in the set.
Set 2 saw Hannah Barlow enter the fray as the starting OPP as the squad looked for a spark. After a service break had the Hazlet school up 1-0, Barlow drove a ball down from the OPP to knot up the score and go on serve. The sophomore did not disappoint as she rattled off 6 straight service points (4 aces, Roberts kill, RHS error) to give the Top a 7-1 lead they would fight to keep the entire set. Raritan cut the lead down to 4 after an ace (10-6) but the Hilltoppers got a dump kill by Oberhuber and kills by Cece Webb and Barlow to extend the lead again back to a comfortable margin at 13-6. Yet again the Rockets cut the lead down to 4 at 14-10 but a serving error and a Roberts kill later, 16-10. Late in the set, the Hilltoppers seemed to have it all in control as another set of kills by Roberts and Webb had the squad up up 23-15 but the Rockets’ resiliency was outstanding and they kept fighting back, cutting the lead down to 4 at 24-20 before Oberhuber put a final exclamation point on the set with a kill to close it 25-20. Summit outscored Raritan 18-8 in the set and the 13 kills in the set were the main factor in the set.
The deciding set saw Barlow stay in the match but also saw the return of Basaman in the OPP. The senior opened set 3 with a kill and tough serve by the OPP which led to a Roberts kill to open up an early 2-0 lead. Despite a service break, SHS broke right back and went on a 3-0 run (Julia Nardino ace, Roberts kill) that had the Hilltoppers up 6-1. Raritan kept clawing back and had cut the lead down to 9-6 but the Summit seniors led the team in re-taking control with kills by Oberhuber and Basaman and another Barlow kill, this time from the OH slot, to open a 13-6 lead. But one thing became clear, the Raritan team, also led by many seniors, was not going to fold at any point, no matter the lead, and in expected fashion, the Hazlet school manufactured a 3-0 run that had the Summit fans nervous with the score 13-9. But the X factor in the last 2 sets had been the sophomore Barlow and the team looked for her again to deliver and she did with a screamer to zone 6 to break the RHS serve. Barlow followed up with an ace and Roberts ripped another kill to zone 4 and just like that, 16-9 SHS and a TO by the Rockets. Raritan broke serve coming off the time-out but Nardino got a kill to zone 1, Basaman ripped an ace to 5 and Roberts drove a ball down to 1and the Hilltoppers seemed to have it all under control at 19-12. The Rockets responded with a 4-0 run that ended with a Sarah Noa down ball kill that fueled a 3-1 run (Barlow and Oberhuber kills) that got Summit closer to a win at 23-17. The Rockets got as close as 3 at 23-20 but a 2nd ball return error and an attack error that sailed 3 ft. out sealed the deal for the Hilltoppers 25-20. Yet again SHS out-scored Raritan 19-11 with a 16-9 kill advantage, ultimately the difference in both set 2 and 3. Roberts saved the best for last as the OH junior went 6 kills of 12 attempts with 0 errors in set 3 to push her match total to 10 and Senior Captain Rebekah Thompson was a defensive machine all match, tallying 19 digs (6 in 3rd set) and passing safely in 22/24 attempts with 11 of them being perfect 3.0 passes (50%).
With a guaranteed 2 more matches on tap for the Hilltoppers (Clifton on 10/29 on the road and the N2G3 Quarter-Final Matchup versus either Millburn or Belleville at home on Wednesday, 11/3 at 5:30pm, the Hilltoppers could earn the 3rd most wins in program history and the 4th best winning %.