Tenafly starting to get it after win over Teaneck

TENAFLY – Tenafly’s volleyball team improved to 5-5 on the season with an impressive two-set, 25-8, 25-11 victory over Teaneck Monday night. In the first match of the season last month Tenafly took a hotly-contested three-set barn-burner over the Highwaywomen.

“It was close in every set,” Tenafly senior libero Mikayla Barquin said of the early September match. “We saw how they improved so we really felt we had to give our all. Right now we’re seniors. This is our last year so we just have to give it our all.”

“They [Teaneck] are an improved team from last year,” added senior middle hitter Sophia Tapia. “We lost a bunch of players - our whole starting team. We’ve worked our butts off to get there and I think everybody is putting in the work. It’s really impressive to me.”

After Teaneck took a 1-0 lead on a service ace by Highwaywoman junior Amali Johnson the Tigers reeled off nine consecutive points, eight on service winners by Barquin.

“I always have this same routine and I do it over and over to make sure I get it over and in,” Barquin said. “I guess I just battled, they kept going in and I just kept doing everything I was supposed to be doing.”

Freshman Sophia McCullough, who led Teaneck in scoring, hammered a kill to end Barquin’s streak.
An errant serve gave Tenafly the side out and a few points later Tapia crushed a kill to make it 13-2.

“I think we just came out [fast],” Tigers coach Jeff Koehler said of the great start. “We were up. It’s a Senior Day kind of thing. When we played them the first time we went three sets. They have so improved over the years and the two coaches have done an awesome job. They have some really good players. Amali Johnson is awesome.”

Tapia smacked four more kills as Tenafly easily took the first set 25-8.

“We had a rough start [to the season] but the fact that we’re building our way back up, we’re getting there,” Tapia said. “We’re pushing through it. [Coach] Koehler switched our regular defense - a rotational defense with one in the middle and two deep - to a rover defense. And I think it’s going to work out for us way better. This is the first time we’ve kept a team below double digits for the first set. It’s really impressive and it got me hyped.”

“They have some really strong hitters,” added Barquin, “so as long as we are in position and under the ball we are able to receive the ball and ultimately get it to our setter [junior] Oliva [Lai] who was able to get it to Sophia (Tapia) who was able to put it down. It always starts with the dig and the defense.”

Tenafly rolled out to a 9-0 lead in the second set thanks to nine service winners from Barquin, including back-to-back aces, and continued superb defense by the Tigers.

“The defense stepped it up,” said Tapia. “They’ve been getting so good. They’ve been working their butts off each practice and I’m so proud of them.”

“From the beginning of the season,” said Koehler, “we’re changing our defense a little to put people in better spots to be more athletic. We  have Oliva (Lai) and [senior defensive specialist] Ginger [Koslow] roam around.”

Tapia blasted seven more kills in the second set to lead all scorers with 12. She also contributed seven straight service winners.

“I’ve been working on my serve and jump serving,” she said. “This year [coach] Koehler was open to me jump serving because we need aggressive serves against harder teams. Putting in the work for games like these helps me build my confidence for my jump serves.”  

Lai finished with 12 assists, senior outside hitter Kayla Riley smacked 7 kills, senior setter Chloe Cheng had 4 assists and 7 digs and Barquin added 5 digs.

“This was a good game because we’re .500 and we have a stretch of top teams in the state - Demarest, Old Tappan and Northern Highlands - so we have three tough ones,” Koehler said. “But it’s going to hopefully help us for the counties. They’ve all been doing great. These senior captains saw what happened last year. They were a part of it - all of them. I know it’s sometimes frustrating for them but they are really trying to show the younger girls how to do it. Then it’s up to them.”

“Compared to the first game [of the season] to this game you can see major improvement and how we all work together as a team,” added Barquin. “Last year it was all seniors; this is a whole different team. We’ve shown how we have improved and how we’re working together and talking.”

Koehler said he is happy with his team’s progress as he looks toward the rest of the season.

“That’s the big thing,” he said of the improvement. “As long as they stay with it we have 3 ½ weeks left in the season - that’s it. It’s something I tell them - you tie your shoelaces up for the last time. It’s funny - some people get it. But they all say to me when I see them after they graduate that it's something they don’t understand until it’s over. I’m almost done coaching. I have a few more years but I think about when is the last time I’m ever going to coach. You take it for granted until it’s gone.”