2023 Girls Volleyball Shore Conference Semifinal Preview
Lakewood--What started out as a thought has turned into a reality for four programs across the Shore Conference heading into Monday evening.
While there have been trials and tribulations for all teams throughout the conference, the four dancing at Georgian Court University have been able to overcome scenarios in which other teams would not be able to.
By the end of tonight, there will be a new conference champion, having a new coveted banner hang across the programs gymnasium for all to see.
Southern Regional is back into the semifinals after taking home the championship a year ago. It's been a year in which the Rams have yet to lose inside the conference, as every opponent that comes their way knows it's the toughest of challenges throughout.
Donovan Catholic, led by a perennial group of seniors, returns to the semifinals and looks at a case of redemption after losing against the Rams in the finals a year ago.
St. John Vianney has been one of the most consistent teams across the conference, winning 19 games throughout 2023. The Lancers are deep and versatile from all sides of the court, as the semifinals have a team with strength and willpower entering GCU.
What may seem like a surprise to some will not be a surprise to all as the Barnegat Bengals are the last team in the semifinals. A season with a first-year head coach has caught the attention across the conference, looking to continue their successes starting against Southern.
While the semifinals and the finals are both happening back-to-back, there's no telling in who will be in the championship. We're here to break down the semifinal matchups, in depth, with predictions on who will be the ultimate victor. It'll be an exciting night throughout, so let's get underway.
(5) Barnegat (19-3) vs (1) Southern (24-2)
Barnegat: The Bengals come into this matchup against Southern Regional playing some of their highest quality of volleyball of the season. Both the round of 16 and the quarterfinals did not come easily for the Bengals. Against No. 12 Toms River East, the Bengals had their backs against the wall and started out down a set. As the Bengals have done all season long, the program was able to claw back and find themselves inside the next round.
After seeing that Howell was upset, the Bengals knew they would have another opportunity to provide a show for their fans at home taking on Marlboro. In one of the all-time great matchups, the Bengals once again saw themselves down a set early. In a match that saw over 20 lead changes, the Bengals were able to claw out 2nd and 3rd set victories by 4 and 3 points. A season of jubilation and strong promise transpired over into a deep run, which is why the Bengals are currently in the position they're in.
The Bengals are led by senior Ashley Berger, who leads the team in kills (144) and finds herself third in digs (105). Berger all season long has played a strong front-center of the court, finding ways to get instant kills left and right. Sophomore Brooke Degrazio has been playing at an elite level all season long, leading the team with 171 digs.
Barnegat's secret weapon is another sophomore in Annabella Fraim. Fraim is the Bengals' assist machine, leading the team with 364. Her serves are also considered some of the strongest in the state, leading all inside the program with 127 service points and 66 aces.
One of the disadvantages of the Bengals is the height on the court. Sometimes, teams can use that to their advantage as well, but it's something the program needs to keep in mind if they want to be able to pull off one of the all-time upsets against Southern.
Southern: The Rams could be argued as the strongest team inside the state of New Jersey, but that's for a different discussion at a later date. The Rams were awarded the number one seed in the SCT and have proved exactly why that spot is theirs throughout.
The Rams took on No. 16 Rumson-Fair Haven in the round of 16, which ultimately led to a two-set victory. Southern then hosted No. 8 Midd. South, coming off their first ever SCT win in school history, and handled the Eagles with ease. While things may seem to come easy to the Rams, every opponent is a new challenge with different tasks along the way.
While there are playmakers on every side of the court for the Rams, the program is led by the frontrunner for Player of the Year in Molly Regulski. The senior standout has continued her trend of being undeniably one of the best players in the state, breaking a plethora of records along the way. With over 1,500 assists in her career, Regulski leads the program with 529 this season and only gets better as time continues on. She also leads the team in service points (152) and aces (59), showing the versatility that comes from a player like her.
Senior outside hitter Jordyn Hamlin has been the perfect tandem for Regulski all season long. While Hamlin has a ferocious serve that's hard for anybody to handle, the dynamic skill-making comes from her ability to kill with ease. Hamlin leads all with 210 kills while coming in second on the program with 142 digs. A difference-maker on both defense and offense, she comes in as one of the premier threats all around.
Junior libero Emily Brunatti is also one of the x-factors on the Rams, leading the way with 195 digs. Middle blockers Bryn Hagen and Jessica Smart are two talents that could end up making a case for player of the year once Regulski is graduated. One of the deepest teams in Shore Conference history takes the stage tonight, starting with Barnegat, and looks to take home back-to-back titles.
The Prediction: Southern over Barnegat in Two Sets
(3) St. John Vianney (19-4) vs (2) Donovan Catholic (24-2)
Vianney: The Lancers have been playing some of the best volleyball out of all the teams left in the tournament, winning nine straight two-set matchups. As the Lancers have done all season long, they continued to take care of business in their tournament matchups.
After handling No. 14 Central Regional in the round of 16, the Lancers returned back home and made their way back to the semifinals after defeating No. 6 Jackson Liberty in two sets.
The Lancers were able to find themselves with a tough schedule throughout the regular season, facing both No. 1 Southern and No. 2 Donovan Catholic. The Lancers lost a three-set thriller against the Griffins, which remains in the back of their heads.
Any team that has a freshman that plays significant minutes is going to have a bright future as a program, as that is a rare commodity for any team. The Lancers have exactly that in Ayana Warren. Warren has taken over the spotlight, leading the program in assists with an astonishing 453. Warren is also second on the team in digs with 122. She's had a monumental season that's forever changed the landscape of the program, looking to carry it over into the semifinals.
Sophomore Gia Sergi has been a crucial piece of the roster, leading the way with 202 digs. She also hold the new Lancer school record for most digs in a game with 27. Senior Stephanie Buttons and sophomore Genevieve Millett come in as the true threats within the kill factor, being first and second on the team. Sophomore Taylor Sofilkanich rounds out the front of the net with 102 kills and a team-high 38 blocks.
The Lancers have pieces that range from freshman to senior, the athleticism is striking and the height is there at all times. With their previous date with Donovan Catholic on the burner and with only one task at mind right now, the conference should keep a close eye on this thriller between two elite programs.
Donovan Catholic: The only team left in the field that has faced all remaining opponents are the Griffins. Their only loss was to No. 1 Southern, as they swept No. 5 Barnegat within the B South and handled No. 3 Vianney in three sets.
The Griffins looked rather impressive in their round of 16 win over No. 15 Point Beach and followed it up with a gritty two-set victory over No. 7 Pinelands. All season long, the Griffins have found themselves up against strong competition, as the team leads all with games played entering this matchup.
The Griffins are built for the moment today, as the program currently harbors a strong amount of seniors that only have so much time left. The Griffins are led by senior Macayla Lindner, who comes in as one of if not the best server in the state. Leading all with 85 aces while being second in digs (146) and kills (136), the amount of talent provided by Lindner is exceptionally scary.
Senior setters Elizabeth Kavanaugh and Daniella Tischio come in as two of the most electric playmakers remaining in the tournament. Kavanaugh leads all with 262 assists while Tischio is right behind her with 207 of her own.
Shantel Starling, the Griffins main senior outside hitter, leads the team in digs (170) and kills (243). A Florida Atlantic commit, Starling is one of the main reasons why the Griffins are in the position they're in today. Sisters Brooke and Carly Bowbliss are also projected to get significant playing time, as they've been assets on the court all season long.
Plain and simple, this may be the match of the evening. Two teams that are evenly matched and have talent running rampant, both look to move into the championship. The Griffins look to find themselves back into the Shore Conference Finals to potentially face No. 1 Southern in a rematch from last year, but will have to win a rematch against No. 3 St. John Vianney from earlier this year to get back where they were.
The Prediction: SJV over Donovan Catholic in Three Sets