April 18, 2021 – By NJP

With less than 24 hours before Magic Monday’s State Sectional Final games, NJP is taking a quadruple look at 4 key matchups that will influence Top 25 final ranking.

New Jersey’s number 1 ranked team right now is Northern Highland’s. The algorithm for #1 team is based on an accumulated season and not just the playoffs or who wins a tournament. It will factor in latest trends and weigh state playoff games slightly higher than regular season. So for Northern Highlands, in our system, a win may or may not mean a #1 final ranking, Especially being that they have a loss this season, albeit to the number 2 team. A loss to Tenafly could push them back in the top 10. Equally, beating number one will not equate to a final #1 rating for Tenafly.

“Our hard work this season has really showed in our performance. I’m so proud of this team and our effort across the board. Everyone has contributed to our success. But the thing I love most about this team is that we do not fear competition. We rise to the challenge ready to fight. Northern Highlands Volleyball is still hungry, and I have no doubt that will show in the game on Monday.” -Esmae Oehler

The Highlander’s remain in the best position to be the number one team. A convincing win against Tenafly would all but seal that deal. And they certainly have the team and the power players to give them that chance. The win against a top team like Wayne Valley truly helped their chances. The Highlanders have a dynamic duo of offensive talent in seniors Esmae Oehler and Athena Georgiades as well as one of the most talented junior setters in NJ in Ruby van der Heide. The trio creates magic on the volleyball floor much like a Porsche engine with each piece of machinery working in unison to create power and speed. Oehler is a gem on and off the court. She is a positive spirit that exudes energy for her teammates to feed on. She has also tallied 125 kills/4.5 per set, 68 digs and 17 aces. Athena is a versatile, power middle with 90 kills in 13 matches. van der Heide has 166 assists and leads the team in blocks. Ruby is just a junior but she has already committed to the Ivy League’s Columbia University to continue her academic and athletic careers in 2022. Esmae will be playing at D3 Muhlenburg in the Fall.

Outside of these three dynamo’s are junior Abby Chu at DS along with seniors Bella Calcara and Zoe Kearney. Abby had 121 digs for the Highlanders and anchors the defense. She also had 18 aces on the service line. Bella pitched in 33 digs, has 48 assists and has added 16 aces. Zoe has 34 digs and 6 aces.

Junior Ivanka Sikiric has 43 assists, 19 digs, and has also provided 7 kills and 4 blocks. Junior Emma Lomuti has also contributed up front for the Highlanders with 31 kills and 2 blocks as well as 10 aces and senior Meg Higgins drilled 15 kills and added 1.5 blocks.

This a well-rounded team with excellent coaching from long time HC Caryn Schanstine. This will be their best season win percentage in the past decade under her watch.

The game with Northern Highlands on Monday will definitely be a challenge for Tenafly, however through the season we grew as a team and I am sure we won’t leave the court without a fight. Obviously, I hope we will win, but I also wish the best of luck to Northern Highlands. I am looking forward hopefully to the best game of this season for the Tigers!” – Zuzia Buchnajzer

Now let’s talk about the Tenafly Tigers.

Tenafly will be well prepared to dig into a competitive match on Monday. They have had a very tough schedule this season and have taken on many solid teams losing only to Pascack Valley, Demarest, and Old Tappan, and beating Demarest, Pascack Valley, Roxbury and Morris Knolls. They went to three sets in all of their losses.

Zuzanna Buchnajzer (12) of Tenafly serves during the girls volleyball match between Tenafly and Pascack Valley at Tenafly High School in Tenafly, NJ on Saturday, April 10, 2021.
Zuzia Buchnajzer

The Tigers have a short list of players at 8, but they make the most of what they have. They have just 2 seniors and zero juniors. Four starting sophomores is very uncommon on a team playing for state sectional championship. The starting six rarely come of the floor. Tenafly relies on Zuzanna Buchnajzer to drive the offense. She is averaging over 10 kills per match and is an all-around great player. She provides over 50% of the Tigers kills.

Meghan Koehler takes on the setting duties and has done a great job with over 200 assists. Anna Taufield in an excellent DS. Rylie Theuerkauf, a sophomore outside, has been rock solid with 81 kills and 72 digs. Sofia Bell and Noa Ben-Ari handle most of the middle duties and have combined for 13 blocks. Sofia has 32 kills and Noa has 16.

Both teams are great on defense and both teams are not big blocking teams. It’s evident to us that the Highlanders may have just to much firepower for the Tigers to handle. Tenafly’s ability to use their starters to compete with and beat some on NJ’s best teams means they can never be counted out.

NJP’s Pick: Northern Highland 2-0 (25-22, 25-18)

Another premier matchup of top teams on the NJ HS girls landscape. Westfield has lost just one game to Hudson Catholic during season 3. They ran through Union County’s best team and won a county championship. North Hunterdon has lost two tight three set matches to Hunterdon Central which they avenged later in the year, and Hillsborough who they had beaten earlier in the year. NH was a preseason favorite of NJP returning almost of their statistical numbers and earned a rank of #2. During the season, with the two losses, they dropped back in the rankings, but their season as a whole has just been outstanding.

Both of these teams are power teams in the state and match up very evenly statistically. They are within 1 NJP rating point and finished the year within 1 power point. NH is on a 7-game unbeaten streak. Westfield has a 12-game streak in place. It’s unfortunate that one of these teams has to lose as they both have had phenomenal seasons.

North Hunterdon has a cast of talented players who all contribute to the teams success. Senior Devon Adamy has been amazing thus far with 93 kills and 101 digs as well as 19 aces. Senior Kyra Hissner has been equally as impressive with 141 assists but also 78 kills and 78 digs. Middles Elise Oertel and Annie Schumann combined for 91 kills and 27 blocks. Emily Wolters contributed 154 assists in their 6-2 scheme as well as 59 digs and 22 aces. Melanie Lloyd is excellent on the back row with 179 digs. Add in junior outside Tori Kuo to the mix and you have an outstanding starting line-up that compete with any team in NJ.

“We are very excited going into the state sectional final game against North Hunterdon! As a team, we have come a long way this season. Our communication and cohesiveness has brought us to this point. For the seniors, this game is not only our last, but will be the most memorable. I am looking forward to playing Monday and I am confident in our ability to compete!” – Ginna Mangiamele

Westfield is constructed a bit differently but equally as lethal. Gianna Mangiamele and Emma Hanley have been outstanding on the pins for the Blue Devils. Gianna has put up 142 kills, 9 blocks, and 131 digs. Emma has 117 kills, 9 blocks, and 121 digs. They are just a dynamic pair. Kerry Donovan also has contributed at pin with 65 kills and 9 blocks. Kerry leads the team with 31 aces. Emma and Gianna have 30 and 21 aces respectively. Chloe Kreusser is a big part of the net attack at middle with 15 blocks and 40 kills and Taylor Addis leads the team in blocks with 27. Rebekkah Dayon has been great at lib contributing 139 digs. Anna Tichenor and Victoria Toal bring the offense together as setters as well as supply senior leadership.

NJP Pick: This one is destined for three sets. If a match could go four sets, this would be the one. Westfield gets the slightest of nods in this one. It will be an amazing game to watch. Westfield 2-1 (25-22, 25-27, 28-26)

NJP sees Morris Catholic as a clear favorite in this sectional playoff final. They have been competing against some of the best teams in the NJAC this season and despite their four losses, have beat some solid teams as stayed close to Chatham. Jefferson, and Mendham.

Hailey Fouche

MKA has had a great year losing only to Verona in three sets. All of their wins have not been at the caliber of competition that Morris Catholic has been playing. They have a solid pair of offensive attackers with Hailey Fouche and Samiyah Abdur Rahim. Both of the standout players are sophomores and they account for 80% of the teams kills.

PJ Dowd and Ava Augustine have been great setters for the Cougars and PJ has been solid defensively. Another sophomore Zhenia Doluda has been a major contributor with 34 kills 13 blocks and 41 digs. Watch out for this team in the Fall as these young ladies will be forming a powerhouse leading into Fall 2022.

For Morris Catholic, Riley O’Hagan is just a standout setter for the Crusaders. She has almost 300 assists for the Crusaders and leads the team in aces with 40. Ella Kretten and Sofia Mattingly are a dynamic pair at outside. Ella has 120 kills and 77 digs. Sofia has 105 kills and 68 digs.

Ella Kretten

Alicia Pokrzywa, the brilliant libero who has over 1,500 digs for her career, returned to the floor against Newark Academy in the semi-final. If she participates, it will be a major asset for the Crusaders.

Emma Duphiny has had a solid Spring and Morris Catholic is solid defensively. Lauren Carlucci, Isabelle Adeyinka, and Charlotte Sforza have been great all year as well.

We don’t think MKA can stay with amount of talent on the Crusader team. This one will probably be a two-set match.

NJP Pick: Morris Catholic 2-0 (25-19, 25-18)

Hunterdon Central has been a surprise for us all season. NJP originally projected the Devils in the middle of the pack in our pre-season analysis. We should have known that a big cast of solid players would be coming up through the ranks and the major loss of senior talent is just a normal thing for a school their size. NJP has them ranked #13 and they have been impressive this year. We watched them dismantle North Hunterdon in the first game they played and have been riding some amazing momentum all season long.

Other than the revenge loss to North Hunterdon, the team has been perfect. they have glided through the Skyland without a hitch. At 14-1, they are one of the more formidable programs in NJ.

East Brunswick was expected to be good, and they are. They are currently ranked 7th in the state and only yielded in one encounter, a loss to JP Stevens, another top 20 team. They defeated JPS in the semi-final a few days ago and seem primed to continue their success. They have beaten Monroe and Colonia and the rest the GMC has to offer. It will be one of those games where we can see whether the Skyland or GMC is a stronger division.

East Brunswick has a world of talent at each starting position. Paige Anania has been lights out great this year. 100 kills, 95 digs and 25 aces. She is such a solid player. When you couple her with Hailey Benesz (one of NJ’s best beach volleyball players) you have quite a dynamic duo. Hailey has put up 87 kills, 79 digs and 29 aces.

Hailey, Paige, and Anaya

Anaya Prince at middle is awesome. She has 21 blocks and 68 kills. Setter responsibility is split between Ysabella Sapienza and Laurel Sheard. Ysabella, a junior, has 21 aces, 23 kills and 75 digs in addition to her 134 assists. Megan Lee has provided solid support on the defensive side with 84 digs at libero. Senior Melissa Chinchar has been a super varsity starter as well. No weaknesses on this Bears squad.

Despite Hunterdon’s great record and number 1 seed, NJP is giving East Brunswick the nod in straight sets.

NJP Pick: Bears 2-0 (25-21, 25-22)

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