WILDCATS CAPTURE SECOND STRAIGHT SCT GIRLS VOLLEYBALL TITLE By Eric Braun

Dec 04, 2018 | Girls, Pinelands, Volleyball

 TUCKERTON – The Pinelands Regional High School girls volleyball team capped off one of their best season in school history, ending with a record of 27-3 overall and the Shore Conference Tournament championship.

The Wildcats opened their season with five straight shutouts before running into their lone division loss to Donovan Catholic.  After that loss, Pinelands went back to work and went 15-1, dropping a hard-fought contest to North Hunterdon. Their impressive run included wrapping up the regular season with a 13-1 record, B South conference championship and overall record of 20-2.

The Wildcats entered the Shore Conference Tournament with the No. 1 overall seed and did not disappoint or get overwhelmed with the pressure. After a first-round bye, Pinelands took on Barnegat –

 a division foe they beat earlier in the season, 2-1, with scores of 22-25, 25-15 and 25-21.  This matchup would go all Pinelands’ way with little trouble, as the Wildcats won in straight sets, 25-15 and 25-15.  In the quarterfinals, the Wildcats met up with No. 9 Raritan and once again they won in straight sets, this time 26-24 and 25-21.

Pinelands would make their way to the semifinals with little pressure, but would find a tough opponent waiting for them in No. 4 seed Wall Township, who was riding high coming into this matchup.  Brittney Houseworth and Kayla Thornton would do most of the damage, leading Pinelands with 4 and 10 service points, respectively, and 4 and 2 aces, respectively, while Emma Capriglione would add 8 kills along with Thornton’s 11 kills. The Wildcats would be pushed to a three-set match for the first time since their 2-1 victory of Colts Neck earlier in the year. Pinelands advanced with a 2-1 victory of Wall with scores of 25-11, 22-25 and 25-12.

In the championships, Pinelands met up with perennial power Southern Regional, who came in as the No. 2 seed with a record of 27-3 with losses coming to Pinelands (2-1), North Hunterdon (2-1) and Williamstown (2-0).  In their first matchup, all three sets were tightly contested with scores of 25-15, 25-21 and 25-20.

The finals would be no different, as Pinelands won in straight sets, 25-19 and 25-21, for their second straight Shore Conference Tournament championship title. 

After holding off a tough Wall squad earlier in the night, Pinelands leaned on its seven seniors to pave the way. 

“I have seven seniors and all seven were integral parts of the team last year. I think the experience of going through the whole process and actually getting to Georgian Court, which is always what our goal is, helped everyone play relaxed,” said Coach Kathy Bennett.

Thornton, who has been a force all season, continued her dominance and leadership.  Against Southern Regional in the finals, the senior finished with 15 kills, 6 service points, 2 aces and 3 blocks.

Along with Thornton, senior Victoria Pickel led the Wildcats with 24 assists and 2 digs.  Senior Ciera Seals added 6 service points, 1 kill and 3 digs.  Senior Tiffany Papa chipped in with 2 digs while senior Alexa Houston added 3 kills.  Senior Jayce Demaria came up with 4 huge blocks while junior Houseworth chipped in with 7 service points, 1 ace and 5 digs and junior Capriglione added 6 service points, 5 kills and 4 digs.

“These seven seniors have totally stepped up in every aspect,” Bennett said. “Our setter Victoria Pickel stepped in this year and has come up big in every game. She’s doing a phenomenal job and then there’s Kayla Thornton, and then Emma Capriglione is following right in her footsteps. The leadership they’re providing is just phenomenal. We’re going to miss this senior class.”

To top off their second straight championship was a surprise escort on their way home. Police cars, fire trucks and ambulances were waiting to greet the team bus as it got off the Garden State Parkway for their short trip back to Pinelands High School.

The season would end not the way Bennett and the Wildcats wanted, but this has still been one incredible ride for this group. They went into the state tournament on a roll and rallied off a win over Science Park, 2-0, with scores of 25-9 and 25-6; and a second-round win over Voorhees, 2-1, with scores of 25-19, 23-25 and 25-9.  In the quarterfinals they defeated Pascack Hills, 2-0, behind scoring of 25-15 and 25-23. 

The win put the Wildcats into the semifinals against Rutherford, where Pinelands came out on fire winning the first set, 26-24.  From there Rutherford took over and defeated the Wildcats 25-17 and 25-13, knocking Pinelands from the tournament.