Raiders’ volleyball takes early tournament win

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By Justin Feil, Contributor
The Hillsborough High School girls volleyball may have jumped out to a promising 2-0 start to the season, but Cheryl Iaione learned more about their potential after their first two losses.
The Raiders bounced back from consecutive defeats during the week to win the Morris Knolls tournament Saturday.
“We went 8-0 and won the whole thing,” Ms. Iaione said. “We showed a lot of character after a tough week of losses¼After the tough week we had, the kids didn’t get down. They just kept working hard at practice. They rebounded nicely.”
Hillsborough has already seen some tough competition in the Skyland Conference. They edged North Hunterdon, 2-1, in their season opener and went outside the conference to shut out Hopewell Valley. They lost to Bridgewater-Raritan and Ridge with a final score of 2-1.
“Our opening victory over North (Hunterdon) was outstanding,” Ms. Iaione said. “The kids played great. They’re always one of the top teams in the state and we snuck up on them. But we played well. We passed well, we hit well, we communicated well, and good things happen.
The Raiders played everyone on their roster in the preliminary rounds of the Morris Knolls tournament.
When they got to bracket play, the Raiders used their most experienced players to move into the finals before they topped Mahwah.
“(Mahwah) is a good team but we won that day,” Ms. Iaione said. “It set the tone and it showed the kids that they can play with anybody on any given day.”
Hillsborough has already seen the benefits of its difficult schedule. The Raiders showed where they stood when they won the tournament despite a .500 start.
The Raiders are expecting big things this season with a senior-dominated team. Ms. Iaione said the seniors give them a good starting point.
“When you have seniors that lead, you can do things differently,” she said. “These kids, they’re just really a group that seems to really enjoy each other. There’s no selfishness. If they’re not in the game, you can hear them on the bench cheering for the next person.”
Hillsborough has seven seniors: Faith Adams, Erika Arendas, Lianna Bruno, Isabelle Gonzalez, Marisa Mazuera, Natalie Minter and Jordan Williams. Jillian Boose, the second middle, is the only non-senior who regularly starts and a key to their bright outlook.
With their leadership, Ms. Iaione said the seniors have created a team habit of communicating on the court and expecting a lot from each other.
“They kind of understand what’s going on. They’re a fun group to coach. They work well together,” Ms. Iaione said. “Win or lose, no one gets down. We just come back the next day and work hard. You can’t ask for more.”
Aside from Ms. Boose, the team’s juniors are Hannah Otto and Nicole Sacca. Sophomores are Lenah Chedid, Gianna LoCicero and Nicole Salazar.
For the underclassmen on the team, Ms. Iaione said the move up to varsity volleyball represents a bigger challenge.
“When you’re a sophomore and played JV last year, they’re seeing the pace is different,” she said. “They have the ability or they wouldn’t be with me. It’s a little intimidating when they get out there, and sometimes the confidence isn’t there yet.”
Case and point, she said, was when the team faced off against North Hunterdon, who are a top 20 team in their own right.
“I knew we were going to lose the second set because (North Hunterdon) had taken command and we had to go three (games) and it’s 110 degrees in the gym so I have to give the kids a break,” she said. “I put in the younger kids and that’s very intimidating.
The players have been helping to bring each other along. At a recent practice they split into positions and worked with each other for a few minutes.
“It was really cool watching it,” Ms. Iaione said. “When peers are teaching peers, it’s a whole different aura when they’re doing that. You can do that when you have kids like this. That’s why I was so proud of their win on Saturday. When you have tough losses, it can beat you up sometimes. It’s grinding when that happens. I was really happy for them.”
The keys to winning during the remainder of the season will remain the same: when the Raiders play the way they did throughout the tournament, they are going to be successful.
“The name of the game is passing,” Ms. Iaione said. “When we pass well, we play well because you get opportunities to do things. We have strong play at the net with Marisa Mazuera and Faith Adams, the seniors, getting a lot of kills up there. If we don’t pass well, we don’t get the options we want, and that puts us in a bad spot.”
It’s early, but the Raiders’ coach believes they have already been tested. They have a pair of good regular-season wins, some nail-biting losses and then a tournament championship that says as much as anything.
“I like the resilience of the kids,” Ms. Iaione said. “It’s not easy to take these losses. They’re tough. When you’re a call or two away or inch or two away from a ball being in or out, and you don’t win the game, that’s tough. But they come back the next day and they’re ready to go to practice and continue to try to work to get better.”