The Lady Hilltoppers Volleyball squad had a massive week ahead of them, a first round County Tournament match versus New Providence, the yearly Pink Out match, and hopefully the Quarter-Final Match in County Tournament.
The first round match was a typical affair for the Top in this, the 3rd meeting of the year between the Pioneers and the Hilltoppers. Summit was down 4-1 early but the home team got an ace by Caroline Henry and 2 kills by Alison Wauters to flip the score to 5-4 and the match was on. A 6-0 run by the SHS squad gave control to Summit as Vivian Roberts got into the match with 3 kills and Wauters added 1 ace while Cece Webb notched a kill out of the middle to force a Pioneer TO with the Hilltoppers ahead 13-6. After the time-out, the home side got a New Prov hitting error and a massive block by Webb and the set was essentially over at 15-6. Over the next few rotations, Summit got an Abby Thompson ace and a Hannah Barlow kill and the rest was academic with Summit up 19-8. Summit closed it out 25-16.
Set 2 saw the pin hitters switch to Emily Demm, Anna Joseph and Abby Wells. Naya Kim took on one of the MB spots while frosh McKenna Welsh stepped in as the setter. Ava Feuerstake and Ece Kulabas rounded out the backcourt on the DS spots as the Hilltoppers looked to dispatch the Pioneers in two. Down early again by a 7-4 tally, SHS benefited from 3 consecutive visitor errors and knotted up the score at 7. New Prov regained control over the next two rotations and the Top was staring at a 13-9 deficit. Summit then reacted with a kill by Cece Webb to cut the lead down to 13-11but the Summit side could not gain much momentum and were still trailing 18-15 a few rotations later. A visitor kill and a hitting error by the Top and a 20-15 score was showing on the scoreboard. A Welsh ace and a New Prov hitting error gave some hope to the SHS side but that was short lived as the home side suffered through a visitor 3-0 run that put the set out of reach at 23-17. SHS did not give up and fought back with a three point run of their own as Barlow got back to the front line to notch 2 kills and Wauters returned to the match with a kill of her own to make it 22-24 but it was too little too late and the home side dropped set 2 25-22.
The deciding set 3 was a bit anti-climactic as Summit jumped out to a 7-0 lead as Wauters (1 kill), Zoe Zacharias (2 aces), Julia Nardino (1 kill) and Barlow (1 kill) all contributed to ease any tensions early by the home side. New Prov reacted a few rotations later and got to within 4 at 11-7 but a 5-1 run by the Hilltoppers set the stage for a 3 set win as Roberts notched 3 kills and Nardino added another to give the Top a 16-8 lead and force a Pioneer TO. Summit never allowed the visitors to cut into that lead again and closed it out 25-13 with an exclamation point by Roberts.
Summit came back on Thursday in their Pink Out event against the Cranford Cougars in the rubber match of the season. The crowd was amazing, the match was exciting and the revenue raised for Stage 3 metastatic breast cancer was incredible. The Top, however, found it hard to keep control of their intensity and emotion as the team yielded a 7-0 run to start the match and never recovered. SHS got to within 4 at 10-14 but then had a net fault, gave up an ace and a kill forcing a Coach Martins TO at 10-17 but never challenged again as the Cougars closed it out 25-16.
Set 2 was a much more closely fought endeavor as both teams found themselves knotted at 11 after a Cougar ball handling error, a Barlow kill and a big stuff block by Nardino. But the Cougars then ripped an 8-0 run (3 aces, 3 kills, 2 SHS hitting errors) which seemed to spell the end for the Top. Coach Martins tried to stop momentum with 2 TOs in the midst of the run but to no avail and it took a Cougar serving error before the run was over. Barlow then stepped up and forced Cranford into a passing error with her serve and added an ace to get the Top within 5. At 21-15, Summit got a big block by Wauters and a kill by Roberts to get the score to 21-17. At 22-17, a serving error again gave the Top hope and Roberts notched another kill while Thompson forced the Cougars into errors with her pressure serving run and the Top crawled to within 1 at 22-21. Roberts kept the Hilltoppers in play with another kill at 22-23 but the Cougars got a serving error from the home side and were looking at 2 match points. Barlow kill, 23-24, Stella Yarden dig to a Zacharias pass to a Barlow kill, 24-24. Cougar kill, 25-24, match point #3. Barlow kill, 25-25 but Cranford kill follows for match point #4. Hitting error by the Cougars, 26-26. The Cougars recovered though and followed up with a kill (match point #5) and finally closed it out with an ace for an incredible finish to a great match.
Friday the 14th marked the 3rd consecutive year the Hilltoppers made it to the Quarter-Finals of the County Tournament and the team were looking to become only the third in school history to make it to Semis. To do that, Summit would have to get through the Highlanders of Governor Livingston on the road in a 4 vs. 5 matchup. The only recent win over GL had been in 2021 but at home after dropping the away match in the first match of the season so the task was not easy.
Set one began rather well for the Top as 2 errors by GL and a Zacharias ace gave Summit an early 3-1 lead. The home side had reversed the score and led 7-5 but a serving error and a block by Webb had the Hilltoppers knotted up at 7. Down 9-7, Summit surprised the Highlanders with a 4-0 run (Roberts 3 kills, Nardino 1 kill) and Summit saw themselves up 11-9. Not surprisingly, this set and match became a slugfest with both teams swinging away and neither team being able to take control consistently so any sustained run by either team was going to have a massive impact. In set 1, it happened at 16-16 for Summit.
A serving error by GL began the run and Thompson stepped up with an ace and the next serve led to a free ball by GL that gave Roberts an opportunity that she would not waste and add to her kill total. Late in the set, 19-16 Summit. A few rotations later, Zacharias caught the GL squad by surprise with a setter dump and SHS went to 22-19 and Wauters stuff blocked GL’s best OH to give Summit a 23-19 lead and force a Highlander TO. The pause in action worked as the home side got the ball back but SHS got another Wauters block and stunned the Highlanders with a Roberts kill to close out set 1 25-20.
Set two was going to be a fight and the Top knew it and was prepared for it. Yet again a sudden point run became the early difference in the set. With the score 7-5 Summit after a foot fault by the Top, SHS got a 4-0 run with another dump kill by Zacharias and a tip kill by Barlow to fuel the 11-5 lead. GL responded with a 4-0 run of their own but a sudden injury forced a GL TO. Off the pause, Barlow got a quick kill to start a 3-0 run that saw Nardino get a kill and Zacharias notch an ace. Despite a GL service break, Summit again got a 3-0 run (Barlow and Webb kills) to give Summit a 17-10 lead and the visitors could sense the upset brewing. GL responded with a 3-0 run just to see Summit respond back with a 2-0 run. Governor Livingston got a kill to cut the lead to 19-14 but then SHS ripped 2 kills by Roberts forcing a GL TO with a 21-14SHS lead. The Top could see the finish line. Could they cross it for the first time in 11 years?
Attack error GL, 22-14. The dream was becoming the reality if SHS could just avoid unnecessary unforced errors. Unfortunately, GL got a 13-3 run that ripped the heart of the Top and kept the Highlanders alive. In that run, Summit managed only 1 of 4 serves in which opened the door for the Highlanders to take the set away from the Hilltoppers. GL in the same run, went 7/8 with 2 aces. And the dream became the nightmare in set 3 as a consequence.
The 13-3 run that ended the second set became a 21-4 run with set 3 seeing GL open up an 8-1 lead they never gave up. Summit and GL went at each other the rest of the way but the reality was that the 8-1 run became the defining moment of the deciding set as the Top never got any closer to the Highlanders.
Summit got 29 kills, 5 blocks and 6 aces for 40 points in the match. GL got 32 kills, 2 blocks and 9 aces for 43 points. Summit committed 8 hitting errors, 4 free ball errors, was called for 6 faults and had 12 serving errors for a -30 points. Governor Livingston had 10 hitting errors, i free ball error, were called for 2 faults and had 13 service errors for a -26 points. In summary, the point spread of a close 4 vs. 5 matchup.
Despite the tough loss, the Hilltoppers were never any closer to earning a trip to the Semi-Finals in recent history. The lessons learned will be invaluable in the long term despite the short-term pain.
The following are the combined individual highlights for the week:
Match Statistical Leaders:
Serving: Zacharias 6 aces
Serve Rating: Zacharias 2.06
Receiving (Perfect Passes): Henry 16
Receiving (Pass Rating): Roberts 1.91
Attack (Kills): Roberts 34
Attack (Kill %): Roberts 45.3%
Attack (Efficiency): Roberts .347
Defense (Blocks): Webb 7
Defense (Digs): Roberts 27
Defense (Dig %): Barlow 90.9%
Assists: Zacharias 61