WAYNE – While the girls volleyball Tournament of Champions title and the state’s No. 1 ranking were both on the line on Sunday at William Paterson University, it was a unique scenario for the two teams involved. Secaucus, the first Group 1 team to ever reach the final, and Paramus, which was the No. 7 seed in the Group 3 state tournament, both defied odds just to get to the T of C, let alone come away with the state championship.
However, when yesterday’s final came to pass, both teams were standing on opposite sides of the court for all the marbles with nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Paramus held off a furious rally in game one, then used a rally of its own to bring home the crown. Tournament MVP Daniela Gomez helped eliminate a six-point deficit and get Paramus back on the right track. An ace by Mary King capped the comeback and the Spartans’ incredible run throughout the state tournament to win the Tournament of Champions title with a 25-22, 25-23 victory over Secaucus.
“We knew we had potential, but I don’t think we thought we would go this far,” said Paramus senior setter Chrissy McKay. “We knew Secaucus was dangerous and they had a very good middle blocker [Cory Roesing]. We made some errors, but we fought through them.”
The Patriots scored the first point of the opening stanza, but that would be their last lead of the game. The Spartans gradually pulled away, despite committing more attack errors (13) in a game than they have all season. The key was getting tips on Roesing and not letting her get hot as she did in the semifinal upset over Pascack Valley. They got those tips and dug her effectively throughout the match to set the tone.
Paramus looked like it was going to cruise through the opening game, holding seven game points at 24-17. But the Patriots kept points alive and forced their opponents into four consecutive hitting errors to get back within two points, 24-22, before dropping the game.
“We struggled, but we kept our heads up and were able to close them out,” said Paramus’ Mary King. “I can’t remember the last time we that much trouble running our offense, but we kept trying to play our game. We knew if we got our passes down and our quick attack going that we would play much better.”
The Patriots comeback fell just short in the first game, but they carried that momentum over into Game 2. An ace by Jenna Totaro and a block from Roesing capped the game-opening 7-1 run. But the hitting-error bug that plagued Paramus in the first game, hit the Patriots in the second game. Holding an 11-8 lead, the next six points Paramus scored all came on attack errors and the Spartans grabbed the lead, 14-13.
“We were playing well and then we let them back in the game with the errors we made,” said Secaucus head coach Sheila Rivera. “You can’t give a team like Paramus too many opportunities because they will capitalize. We could have widened our lead in the middle of that game, but we did not take advantage and it came back to bite us.”
Paramus went to its quick attack, which McKay and King executed on several occasions to perfection to keep them within striking distance.
But it looked like Secaucus was going to force a third game when Roesing got into the front row. She put away three kills in as many attempts and her block gave the Patriots a 21-17 lead.
The next point was crucial as King’s block ended a long point and got the Spartans back into a rhythm. Danielle Soong followed with a kill to cut the lead in half. Then another crucial play occurred when Secaucus’ Monica Dempsey was called for a carry, her fifth of the match, to bring the lead down to one. Gomez knotted the score at 21 on the next point with a kill.
“We never gave up and had to show what kind of team we are,” said Gomez. “We had to pick it up. We practiced so hard and we were so close to winning it all. After beating great teams like Old Tappan, West Morris, Ramapo, and Cherry Hill East, we knew we could overcome anything if we could ran our offense the way we were capable of doing it.”
After a service error, Gomez knotted the score again, this time at 22. After a hitting error on the Patriots, Maxine Bania’s kill tied it up at 23, but they were not able to hold off the Spartans. Gomez ended another long point with a kill and King’s ace clinched the Tournament of Champions crown for Paramus, the first in its illustrious career as a program.
“After that last point, we just went crazy, I couldn’t believe that we really did it,” said Gomez. “After working so hard, to come from the seventh seed in Group 3 and say that we’re number one in the state is something I’ll never, ever forget.”
Roesing was the single most dominant player throughout the state tournament, but registered just six kills and three blocks for Secaucus, which ended its season with a 25-2 mark. Totaro and Kristen Bronowich each had eight digs.
“We have absolutely nothing to hang our heads about,” added Rivera. “To be the next-to-last team left standing in the state as a Group 1 team with no club players on our team is an amazing feat. Of course, we would have liked to go out with a win. But we weren’t even expected to win a state title, let alone get this far. This is all icing on the cake for a great season.”
Gomez was named the Tournament MVP for Paramus (27-5) with a nine-kill, eight-dig performance. King provided a solid second option, also with nine kills. McKay put forth yet another consistent performance with a match-high 23 assists.
“I thought at the beginning of the season that we could do this,” said Paramus head coach Maria Elena Bellinger. “During the middle of the season, I thought I was nuts for thinking that, but I knew we had the potential to do it. Our players really started believing that we could win it all and once they did, we became that much better as a team. This has been an remarkable run for us. To go from almost being eliminated in the Group 3 quarterfinals to winning the Tournament of Champions shows what kind of champions these kids are.”
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