The sub-varsity levels of the program had a busy week with the Junior Varsity preparing for their Semi-Final in the UCIAC Tournament against top seeded Westfield and the 9th Graders took on battle tested Bridgewater-Raritan and the Vikings of Union Catholic as the young Hilltoppers continued to work through the hardest schedule ever created for this level.
Junior Varsity had only been to the County Semis three other times in their past history, losing to Westfield in a non-competitive 2 sets, going down to Cranford 2-1 in an epic battle on the road and most recently, dropping a tough 3-set decision at home to Scotch Plains-Fanwood. This year, the Top would have to travel to Westfield once again and try not to replay the last battle with the Blue Devils.
The Blue Devils this season were built upon consistent serving and an exceptionally lethal offense. The Top relies upon tough serving to score and create easier transition opportunities to score. Could the Hilltopper serving and defense slow the Westfield offense enough to get a win? In set 1, almost. The Top played an outstanding set on the road but the Westfield offense came through in the clutch points as did their serve receive to derail the first set hopes of the Hilltoppers. The second set was a bit more lopsided on the scoreboard but the performance was not any worse in reality, the home side was just able to handle the Hilltopper serving attack and score more consistently whereas the Top struggled in 3 rotations to deal with the #1 team’s serve and create opportunities out of those plays. A complete TEAM EFFORT against a team that expected an easy match and got a heck of battle from our Lady Hilltoppers! Proud of you kids and Coach Ross!
The 9th Graders continued to face top level opposition in the form of Bridgewater-Raritan who has many young athletes with multi-year experience in club teams in order to challenge the level of play the team currently displays and to gain a better understanding of the level of play that will be necessary to be successful at the next level. This has been, by far, the most games and most difficult schedule of any 9th grade program to date. The young Hilltoppers have been doing amazing in their learning curve despite the results not reflecting that at times. At 9W-3L entering the match with BR, it is evident it has been a successful season thus far.
The Top challenged the visitors and actually held a slight 2 point lead late in set 1 but the strength of the BR squad is their consistent serving and attack and the visitors had not yet gotten on track until the second time around the rotation in set one when they began to put pressure on the Lady Hilltoppers and get easier transition opportunities on offense. Summit dropped set 1 late although the close score showed the young athletes they could compete.
Whereas the first set saw Bridgewater Raritan struggle for consistency, the second set saw the visitors not miss a play early while the Top struggled to find a groove of consistency. The BR crew controlled the set and used their best servers early in rotation one so as not to have a repeat of set one and the strategy paid off and the Top walked off disappointed by the 2-0 loss, dropping their record to 9W-4L.
On Wednesday, the Top looked to take those lessons learned and rebound in a conference matchup with the Vikings of Union Catholic. The Top came out with a much more consistent performance and saw their efforts pay off. Lisa Smidt started off the match with a 3-0 serving run and the team kept the Vikings at bay on their serve off the next 2 rotations and that gave Lynn Basaman the opportunity to deliver from the service line. The Libero ripped an 8-0 serving run and the Top had pretty much sealed the set with a 13-3 lead by rotation 3. Natalie Wu followed up with a 4-0 service run and the Hilltoppers were on their way to a 25-9 set one win.
Set 2 began very similarly with Vivian Allan setting the home side up with a 3-0 service run to give the Top a 4-1 lead but after 6 rotations it was the Viking squad who had control at 17-10. Basaman again was key from the service line with a few service points that gave the Top hope by rotation 8 trailing by 18-14 and the entire defense did not allow more that a single point over 5 rotations to give Summit a shot to get back into the set from the service line. Smidt, Morgan Paiement, Callie Armstrong were key in the run that saw SHS tie the score at 23 by rotation 11 and the Lady Hilltoppers hung tough and ended the Viking’s hopes a rotation later sealing the set 2 and match win 25-23! That was the 10th victory of the season for the young ladies and they sit one win away from tying the most amount of wins in program history for a 9th grade program. Congrats to THE ENTIRE SQUAD and Coach Seifert! ONE MORE TO GO!!!