The Howell High School girls’ volleyball team is undefeated, 14-0, this fall—except when it plays Donovan Catholic High School.
Donovan Catholic handed Howell its only regular season loss, back on Sept. 12, and its only postseason loss to date, on Oct. 23 in a Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinal in Toms River.
But luckily, the Rebels will not have to see the Griffins in the NJSIAA Group 4 Tournament, which will begin on Nov. 4. So they should have a great chance to win the state group title.
Then if they do, they may get another crack at the Griffins, too, in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions, slated for Nov. 23 and 24 at William Patterson University in Wayne. Those are a lot of ifs, but Howell is already one of the best teams in the state, and it has a real chance to make a deep postseason run.
In their 14 victories, the Rebels dropped just five sets in total. They also won the Shore Conference’s A North Division, the first division title in program history.
Yet through this banner season, the Rebels never stopped getting better, either.
Hitters Rebecca Valentin, Sam Pavlick and Joan Connolly have dominated at the net all year, with 206 combined kills. Middle blocker Brooke Farley has contributed a lot in that area as well, with 34 kills and 11 blocks.
Libero Hannah Lynde has been a steady defensive presence, with 188 digs. And setter Rachel Ferrara has been a dynamic point guard, with 264 assists.
But lately, Howell coach A.J. Perri has been encouraged by the emergence of another strong net presence, Emma Spanvill, who used to be Howell’s first player off the bench but who moved into the starting lineup during the Shore Conference Tournament. Spanvill has 21 kills and 56 digs this fall, and most of those came in the second half of the season.
“She has the ability to hit the ball hard at a downward angle and give opponents less time to react. She also has one of the highest verticals on the team,” Perri said. “That all helps.”
“Emma scores more consistently as a hitter, which helps us be more consistent as an offensive team,” Perri added.
Spanvill’s emergence has added a lot to Howell’s attack, but she’s not even the only new development for the Rebels. For much of the season, Farley wasn’t serving. Then, in a match when Howell had a big lead, Perri told her to just try it.
“She did well and we let her go again and she did well again,” the coach said. “Now she’s another good option.”
Howell keeps getting better. At this rate, the Rebels might even get good enough to beat their nemesis, Donovan Catholic. But first they have to win the state group title, which will be no easy task against powerful teams such as John P. Stevens High School, North Hunterdon High School and Williamstown High School, the top three teams in the Group 4 rankings.
“We have a legitimate chance in the tournament,” Perri said. “We don’t need to change too much. We’re doing pretty well.”