Calm, Cool and Collected: Bengals Roar to South Jersey Group II Sectional Title
Barnegat-- The Bengals knew coming into 2023 that their program was in strong hands with the current roster. What's been a season of pure dominance may come to the surprise of some but it doesn't come to the surprise of first-year head coach Emily Dancisin.
"Everybody wants to come up and say what a great job the coaching staff provides, but it's not us on the court," Coach Dancisin said. "It's the girls that work their tails off day in and out. They're here ready to go to work whether it be a practice right after school or during an off-day at 7 in the morning. Nobody truly understands the dedication these girls put in every single day."
The Bengals knew that in order to bring home their second sectional championship in the last three seasons that they would need one more masterclass performance to reach the promised land.
The quarterfinals and semifinals proved to be all Barnegat, as they didn't let up a set heading into the sectional final. As the Big House roared vicariously, the Bengals got ready to defend home-court once again against a talented Pleasantville program.
Pleasantville smashed the opening serve over the net for a long exchange between the two programs before Junior Isabella Pavan started off with the kill for the opening point. The early dominance as the Bengals have done all season long carried over, taking a 4-2 lead from Sophomore Annabella Fraim's lone kill of the day.
Fraim, known as one of the perennial setters in the state, assisted a three-point run to give the Bengals a 6-3 lead. Senior Taralynn Charland was on serve for the run, three of her team-high eight service points.
The chemistry was flowing on defense and offense, getting whoever it need be involved with the defense and offense. As aces have been one of the focal points the Bengals have been elite with, the trend continued upwards as 10 of 31 service points landed without a rally.
Senior Ashley Berger, who's third on the team in service points, came up when it mattered most and delivered a fiery ace to extend the lead to four.
The barrage of aces only began as Sophomore Brooke DeGrazio produced their fifth midway through the set. The lead extended to five at 12-7 and forced Pleasantville to call their first timeout.
"Truly, I think a large part of our success is because of how strong of friends we all are," Isabella Pavan said. "We never get too high and we never get too low. We know that you can't get that way no matter the situation. It's always better when we have that mindset too. There's been times this season where things could've gone differently, but we've always been able to stay at that perfect level."
The Bengals found themselves needing to get back into a groove as a five-point run by Pleasantville caused the hand of Barnegat to call a timeout.
The timeout, as Coach Dancisin has called at the perfect time during so many matches this season, proved to once again pay off in favor of the Bengals.
As the Bengals were able to come back on defense and re-take the lead at 14-13, Fraim came back on serve, producing four straight service points and extending the first set lead to five.
Berger then came back into the equation, producing a colossal kill and bringing the lead to six.
"My setters are the best," Berger said. "They're all over the court and they're such a crucial part of all of our success. We wouldn't be where we are today if it wasn't for them."
Berger continued to flourish, coming on with her fourth kill of the match and giving the Bengals a seven-point advantage at 22-15.
After getting one back, Junior Shelby Randolph and sealed the first set with back-to-back service points and a 25-16 victory. The Bengals went on a 12-3 run to close out the set and to take command of the SJG2 sectional final.
The Bengals flipped sides and started right where they left off with an opening ace by Annabella Fraim.
Pleasantville tied it out of the gate, but the Bengals immediately took advantage and went on a three-point run to take a 4-1 lead.
It was a three-point lead for the Bengals at 6-3 before an 8-2 run propelled the Bengals to a nine-point advantage at 14-5. Berger continued to strike with force as her kills were all too much for the opposition. The assists for Fraim continued to pile up and the service points kept on coming for the Bengals. Pleasantville was forced to call timeout to try and rally late.
Barnegat made it a 13-point set at a point before Pleasantville was able to chop the lead down to nine at 18-9. Pleasantville once again called timeout to try and get a late burst of momentum their way. They were able to get one more across on the scoreboard before the Bengals went on a three-point run, extending the lead back to 11.
The theatrics proved to be settled as Barnegat waltzed to a 25-13 victory, winning the match in two sets and winning their second sectional title in the last three seasons. For Coach Dancisin, it was her first title to raise in her first try.
"It's a bizarre feeling, not gonna lie to you," Coach Dancisin said. "Obviously I thought that we had the making to have a really strong season, but I really didn't imagine this. I mean it's just incredible. It's even better being able to do it on our home court and I couldn't thank everybody enough who came out to support us today."
The Bengals have an array of talent, ranging from sophomores to seniors so they're built for the moment today and for the future. All of the seniors bring a strong veteran presence, winning a title two seasons ago, paving the way for the remainder of the roster.
The Bengals will be back at home on Thursday, looking to advance to their first ever group final as they'll be taking on the Central Jersey Group II champions in Governor Livingston in the group semifinals.
Every match that comes in the way of the Bengals proves to be another turning point in the season. Whenever the Bengals have taken the floor, the atmosphere has been championship-like. The Bengals have been a team of destiny all throughout 2023, creating a model that other teams will need to focus on for years to come. The presence of their first-year head coach and the roster that encapsulates the Bengals have created the perfect storm for the opposition to fear at all times. With a sectional title now to their name, the sky continues to be the limit as Group 2 will need to proceed with caution for the remainder of the season.
Barnegat Key Performers:
Ashley Berger: 9 Kills, 8 Digs, 5 Service Points, 2 Aces
Taralynn Charland: 10 Digs, 8 Service Points, 3 Aces, 1 Kill
Brooke DeGrazio: 7 Digs, 5 Service Points, 3 Aces, 1 Kill
Annabella Fraim: 18 Assists, 5 Service Points, 2 Aces, 2 Digs, 1 Kill
Isabella Pavan: 5 Kills, 3 Service Points, 2 Digs