September 20, 2011
By Cory K. Doviak
NJS.com Editorial Director
Kayla Farrell had two of her three kills down the stretch in Game 2 as Old Tappan improved to 5-0 with a two-game sweep of Paramus on Tuesday afternoon.
PARAMUS – There is nothing that says the Old Tappan girls volleyball team can not duplicate the success it enjoyed last season, the best ever in the history of the program. But if the Golden Knights do manage to win every championship for which they are eligible as they did a year ago, the method of success will be quite different.
A year ago, Old Tappan could walk into a gym and blow an opponent out. This season, the Knights seem to have become pretty adept at waiting them out and tiring them out. All four of its previous matches this season required three sets and twice the Knights have dropped the first. They found ways to win all four and added their first sweep of the year on Tuesday afternoon, but even that was not as easy as it sounds. Old Tappan trailed 24-22 in the opening set before rallying to take the final four points and then held on late in Set 2 to take a 26-24, 25-23 victory on the road against Paramus.
“We are passing well, we are playing good defense and we have been able to find ways to win while some of the younger kids step in and gain some experience. That is what we need more than anything at this point in the year,” said Old Tappan head coach Melissa Landeck. “We have already had our backs pushed up against the wall numerous times this season. This is the first time all year we haven't gone three [sets]. We've dropped Set 1 a couple of times already and we've come back. I think that shows we have some fight in us and I am certainly happy to see that.”
There is no way that this season's team could play like last year's version that won league, county and state title before winning the Tournament of Champions and finishing without a loss against in-state competition. Gone from that squad are Aiyana Whitney, New Jersey's Player of the Year, who is now seeing the court at NCAA power Penn State, and Taylor Jansen, who was also one of the best players in the state.
|Sharon Okechukwu and Paramus never trailed by more than four points in either of the two games.
“It's big shoes to fill and it is totally different for me. Just getting on the court at all is different and new for me. I loved being a part of that team last year, but I didn't play much. That is why this is fun. All of the girls on this team get along and really support each other,” said Kayla Farrell, a senior who has assumed some of the responsibility of being a threat on the outside. “It's still all new. We are a young team and we lost a lot to graduation, so it is just a matter of getting used to what to do when a situation comes up that you might not have been in before.”
The position that Old Tappan was in late in the first game was not all that enviable. After going back and forth most of the way with neither team leading by more than three points the whole way, the Knights took a 19-18 lead when sophomore Kim Morgan, one of the to two setters in Old Tappan's formation, got a tip to drop. Paramus then took advantage a a serve into the net and two attack errors to score three straight points. Another hitting error and an ace on the serve of Danielle Mercado gave Paramus a two-point lead and the Spartans moved to within a point of taking the first game, grabbing a 24-22 lead when an Old Tappan hit landed wide of the court.
“In scrimmages and in the season so far we have learned that we are not going to have games handed to us like we did last year sometimes. We don't really have that intimidation factor of having a 6-foot-4 middle [hitter like Aiyana Whitney],” said Old Tappan's senior libero, Kelsey Morgan. “We know we have to work hard and part of that is that we can't give up when we are down.”
A tip-try that went long gave Old Tappan an opening and Kelsey Morgan then hit the back line with a serve to tie the game at 24. Samantha Alechko and Molly Brown then combined on a block to give the Knights a 25-24 lead and they came all the way back to grab the opening set when Paramus again missed long on game point.
Paramus regrouped in time to take an 8-4 lead in Game 2 before Old Tappan was able to rally back even at 10-10. A three-point run capped by Melissa Errico's kill from the middle gave OT a 13-10 lead, but the Spartans caught back up at 15 on an ace by Kirsten Meyer.
|Kelsey Morgan led the Old Tappan defense with 17 digs.
The final set was tied twice more at 16 and 19, but Farrell made a couple of key plays down the stretch to turn the game in Old Tappan's favor for good. She found space down the line for a kill that made OT the first to 20 and she tipped one off a lunging dig attempt to make it 22-20. Errico then got a tip to fall to push the lead to three and, on game point after Paramus has clawed back to within a point, Errico hit one of the few loud kills in the match, a boomer from the middle of the floor that hit the back line to finish it off.
Errico, Old Tappan's junior middle, finished with a match-high 8 kills, while Kelsey Morgan led the Knights' defense with 17 digs. Brown dished out 9 assists and Kim Morgan finished with 5 for Old Tappan, which improved to 5-0 as it rebuilds its ranks without taking a step back in terms of wins and losses.
Rather than driving the whip as she had to do at times last season with an experienced and talented squad that needed motivation and focus as much as Xs and Os coaching, this season she is letting the learning go on pretty much unimpeded.
“I want this team to gain confidence through their play. I am trying to help build that and I don't want them to be looking at the bench after every mistake and feel like they should be afraid to touch the next ball,” said Landeck. “I have tried to keep positive while I am correcting and giving them the necessary feedback to be better. What I like about this team is that they want to be coached, they want to get better and when you have kids that are open and accepting of that, you don't want to break their confidence.”
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