Landeck earns win No. 500 as Old Tappan reaches final to meet top-seed IHA
Brenna Delaney returned to the lineup and held No. 2 NV/Old Tappan top Northern Highlands in the semifinals of the Bergen County Tournament. The win was No. 500 in the career of NVOT head coach Melissa Landeck.

OLD TAPPAN – Northern Valley/Old Tappan, the No. 2 seed, used some late first-set heroics to energize itself for a second set that propelled them to a 2-0 (26-24, 25-16) victory over Northern Highlands in the semifinal round of the Bergen County Women Coaches Association Volleyball Tournament on Thursday night.

“After the first set we saw they got a little low on themselves,” senior middle blocker Layla Giordano said. “It’s a credit to them - they had a very good game - and they had a good tournament but I think we put it to [them]. And that’s how we want to deal with every game coming up - states, county finals and I believe we’ll be able to do it.”

“We’ve definitely been struggling with our serve-receive and we’ve been working a lot at practice on getting better at it,” junior outside hitter Brenna Delaney said. “Going into the second [set] we talked a lot about staying in system. We cleaned it all up, we passed better and I think we had each other's backs. I think that’s a really big part of it - knowing that your teammates have your back and knowing that even if you make a mistake everyone is going to cheer you on for the next play. We took that mindset into the second set and we just let every mistake go out. We kept what we needed to keep on our minds and that helped us clean it up and keep us in system especially for our setter.”

Old Tappan led by as many as four points early on in the first set but the Highlanders kept fighting back. Two consecutive errors by the Knights allowed Northern Highlands to tie the set 11-11 but an errant serve gave Old Tappan a side-out and 12-11 lead.

The Golden Knights were able to maintain that lead, stretching the advantage to five on two separate occasions before Highlands went on a 5-1 run to tie the set 23-all on a block by sophomore middle blocker Delia van der Heide, who had 2 kills and 2 blocks in the match.

An errant serve gave OT the lead, but Highlanders sophomore outside hitter Chloe Amselmi (6 kills) tied the score with a solid kill. Delaney blasted a kill to give the Knights a 25-24 lead and then she spotted a kill into an open space on the Highlanders’ side of the court for the 26-24 first set victory.
In the second set Knights senior outside hitter Maya Giordano smacked one of her 4 kills to break a 5-5 tie and Old Tappan was ahead for good.  

“In the first set at the end we were in a lot of pressure as a team,” Delaney said. “Because we pushed through it kind of fired us up as a team and showed us that going into the second we had the energy that we needed. We took some time to talk about how we did good but we could always do better and we wanted to clean it up individually and as a team. We were all fired up. Our energy and our team culture going into that second set was there - exactly where we needed it.”

“I think that going into the county semifinals, a big game, a bigger environment, you have to relax into the game a little bit,” said Old Tappan coach Melissa Landeck, explaining the slow start. “[You have to] dispel the nerves, just get out there. I think we settled in as the match went on.”

Missing from today’s lineup was junior outside hitter Samantha Kranzler, a key player in the Old Tappan offense. But this is nothing new for the Golden Knights.

“She is a big offensive threat and everyone knew they had to step up a little with her going down,” said Layla Giordano. “We’ve dealt with a lot of injuries all year and we haven’t had a full lineup for more than five games. Her going down isn’t the end of our season. You always have to stay positive. We’re used to challenges coming up and I think that’s the big thing about this team.”

Fortunately for the Golden Knights Delaney is back in the lineup after sitting out for, you guessed it, an injury. She helped fill the void of Kranzler’s absence, tallying a game-high 10 kills. She also scooped 5 digs.

“It feels great [to be back],” Delaney said. “It was a quick turnaround - I came back at the end. I haven’t had full practice really but I’m very blessed to be back in the biggest part of our season. I am very grateful to be in this position.”

“We’ve had quite a few injuries and lineup changes since August,” said Landeck. “I’m just real proud of the resiliency the team has shown no matter what we change, who is in or who is out. They keep stepping up and responding and I’m really proud of them for that.”

Junior setter Addison Gioffre distributed 18 assists, while senior libero Grayson Housley scooped 8 digs. Senior middle blocker Isabella Benasillo contributed 2 kills, 4 digs and a service ace, and junior defensive specialist Jamie Kim had 4 digs.

Old Tappan will face defending champion Immaculate Heart Academy, 2-1 winners over Demarest, in the county final Saturday afternoon. Since 2015 Old Tappan has won the county title twice, while IHA has copped the championship three times.

“The counties is always a big thing for us,” said Layla Giordano, who finished with 7 kills and 2 blocks. “In all the years I’ve played volleyball for this team this is the farthest we’ve gone in counties and our school has a history of winning this tournament. We want to put our names under the win column with this group of girls. I think we absolutely can in the game coming up this Saturday.”

On a side note the Old Tappan victory was career win No. 500 for Landeck. She coached Old Tappan’s freshman team in 1997 and took over as head coach of the varsity in the fall of 1998. She was asked if there were any highlights that stood out in her 25-year career.

“I guess it’s like asking a parent to pick their favorite child,” she said. “There are too many great players, great kids, great families who have been affiliated with this program that I’m very fortunate they came through. I still keep in touch with many of them. They come back and watch us play even though they’ve been out a long time. It’s been a great ride with a lot of great people.”

Although Landeck says she still enjoys coaching she admits it is hard to enjoy it during the season.

“I think it’s the sin of every coach that you probably don’t enjoy it enough while you’re in it,” she said. “When I do get removed from a season enough and look back you always seem to remember the positives, the good times, the big wins. One deficit I have is that I probably don’t enjoy it enough in the moment because you’re always preparing for the next game. I guess there will be a point at some time when I’ll be able to reflect back on it all but it’s tough when you’re in it.”

Landeck and her friend Beth Powell, head varsity coach at Demarest, have been conducting volleyball camps together for more than 20 years. 

“She had a clinic going before me starting around 1989,” Landeck said. “When I became involved [at Old Tappan] we were introduced, developed a camaraderie which became a friendship and we enjoyed doing stuff together. We’ve been rivals and competitors and the development of younger players before they get to high school is something we enjoy.”


Immaculate Heart Academy caught fire in the second and third sets to overcome Demarest, 2-1 (13-25, 25-13, 25-18) in the second match of the Bergen County Women Coaches Volleyball Tournament semifinals.

It was all Demarest in the first set. They took a 2-1 lead on a kill by senior outside hitter Taylor Miller (15 kills) and never looked back. Senior setter Claire Song (22 assists) closed out the set with 9 consecutive service winners to give the Norsewomen a 1-0 lead.

That all changed beginning early in the second set. 

Taylor gave Demarest a 1-0 lead but the Blue Eagles reeled off 7 straight points including 3 kills by junior outside hitter Eve Roman, 1 kill by junior opposite hitter Julia Sobilo (8 kills, 2 blocks) and a pair of service aces by senior libero Abby Romeo, who finished with 12 service points and 18 digs.

“We changed the momentum of the game,” said first-year coach Michelle Yoo. “We came in a little timid but we were very well prepared for this. For the past four days we’ve been practicing extremely aggressively, running different routes, different audibles. I think these girls just really turned on the switch and believed in themselves. They played with heart, they played with resilience and grit. They came back and all their hard work showed in the second and third sets.”

Immaculate Heart closed out the second set with a 11-3 run which spurred them into the third set.

“I think we came out extremely aggressive in the second set,” said Roman. “In the first set, it’s not that we were timid, it's more that we didn’t drop our shots and our serve-receive was coming [on] a little bit. We picked it up and were able to get our shots and we were able to swing and able to spread out their defense. I think that was very helpful in the second set because it drove us to go to the third set and win.”

Demarest grabbed an early lead in the third set but Roman broke a 6-6 tie with a kill and IHA never trailed again. One thing that helped was the defense, which blocked 8 shots in the match.

“We worked hard in practice,” Roman said. “It (the blocking scheme) was supposed to be on the right side but I went up because I saw it. I think it was more instinctive for me. Nonetheless it was both the middle and the right side that blocked. It wasn’t just me. It was totally a team effort.”

Roman had a team-high 11 kills and added 4 blocks and 7 digs. Senior setter Kalena Stavish distributed an astounding 40 assists and scooped 11 digs. Senior middle blocker Emily Sabino chipped in with 10 kills and senior outside hitter Maddie Sandt added 8 kills and 3 digs.

Roman admits she is having fun and she relishes the chance to go for a county title.

“I love volleyball,” she said. “I love the way I swing and the way I can just drop my shots. It’s because my libero was calling out my shots and it was because everyone on the floor was covering me. I had the confidence that my team could back me up. It’s a total team effort. You can’t play volleyball with just one person. It’s six people on the court. Everybody contributed. It was amazing. That teamwork can drive us to be the best.”

“Everybody played a really really big role on our team,” added Yoo. “Anywhere, from the bench, our team managers, our coaches, our players - everyone is extremely well-rounded. I think that’s the reason why our team has held a healthy standard where they believe in themselves because everyone contributes. That’s the reason why the momentum changed. It was a lot of trust that played out. At practice where we have those moments when we’re down five points in a drill we practice coming back and the reason where the light switch turns on and turns off is the fact that we almost forget that this game is made of errors. When the girls remind themselves of that, that’s where it also switches.”