Cougars make history by winning first girls volleyball state sectional title

The Colts Neck High School girls volleyball team celebrates winning the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group III championship against Brick Memorial on Nov. 9 in Brick. PHOTO COURTESY OF COLTS NECK HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT
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The Colts Neck High School girls volleyball team celebrates winning the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group III championship against Brick Memorial on Nov. 9 in Brick. PHOTO COURTESY OF COLTS NECK HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT

Colts Neck High School girls volleyball coach Gregory Hope knew he had a special group of student-athletes suiting up in 2021 and his players knew they were a championship-caliber team.

During the regular season, the players proved they were capable of achieving great things. The Cougars defeated Saint John Vianney High School of Holmdel to win the Eastern Invitational and won the Shore Conference A North Division title.

The Cougars earned the No. 7 seed in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III state sectional tournament.

Colts Neck defeated No. 2 seed Jackson Liberty High School of Jackson in the tournament quarterfinals and No. 3 seed Northern Burlington County Regional High School of Columbus in the tournament semifinals.

Those two victories put Colts Neck into the state sectional tournament championship match on Nov. 9.

Facing No. 4 seed Brick Memorial High School in Brick Township, the Cougars defeated the Mustangs, 25-12 and 25-17, to win the program’s first state sectional tournament championship.

“It was all so surreal when it happened,” Hope said. “To see it happen the way it did was amazing. All the hard work paid off.”

The Cougars eventually reached the finals of the Group III state tournament before bowing out of postseason play. The team finished the 2021 season with a 19-4 record.

“This run meant so much to the girls,” Hope said. “They love playing volleyball. We had a goal of making a run at a championship and we made it happen. Achieving that goal was very special.”

The Cougars had a strong group of upperclassmen who led the way, starting with senior Mary Huegel. As an outside hitter, Huegel produced 240 kills and led the team in aces with 67. She added 152 digs.

Junior Alex Foley controlled the other outside hitter position, combining with Huegel for a strong 1-2 combination at the position, the coach said. Foley finished the season with 200 kills and 41 aces.

Senior Christianna Simon also saw time at outside hitter and contributed 51 kills and 38 aces.

In the middle of the action at setter was junior Sophia Koval, who excelled in her first season at the position after playing as a defensive specialist in 2020. Koval contributed 452 assists, 85 digs and 28 aces.

“Sophia was a huge reason for our success,” Hope said. “She did an exceptional job developing into a setter. She is a great player.”

Junior Madison McSorley starred in the libero role (defensive specialist) and led the team with 351 digs while contributing 28 assists. Senior Kiersten Geissler led the team with 58 blocks as a middle blocker.

After winning the state sectional tournament crown by defeating Brick Memorial, the Cougars advanced to the Group III state tournament semifinals where on Nov. 11, Colts Neck rallied to defeat Toms River East High School.

After the Raiders won the first set, 25-20, the Cougars won the second set, 25-19, to force a third and deciding set. The winner would advance to the Group III state tournament championship match.

Colts Neck dominated the third set, rolling to a 25-14 victory to win the match. Huegel led the way with 10 kills, eight digs and winning 11 service points. Foley had eight kills and 20 digs.

Colts Neck’s historic season came to an end against North Hunterdon High School in the Group III championship match on Nov. 13 at William Paterson University in Wayne. The Lions won the match in straight sets, 25-23 and 25-16, to capture the Group III title.

After the match, Hope told his players the loss in the Group III final did not take away from what they had accomplished during the season.

The 2021 Cougars made history by winning the program’s first state sectional tournament championship and that achievement will always be in the school’s record book.

A new culture of Colts Neck girls volleyball was born and Hope could not be prouder of the way his student-athletes made that happen with their play and their character on and off the court.

“The girls carried themselves really well and showed great character. They are all great players and great people. It was a really cool ride. It didn’t end the way we wanted, but I wouldn’t want to change it from beginning to end,” the coach said.