Raritan girls volleyball team enjoying newfound success

first_imgKristina Pruckowski is among the seven seniors who remember the years of frustrating losses on Raritan High School’s girls volleyball team.This season has been different, though. Raritan reached double figures in wins for the first time at 12-7, and it made the Shore Conference Tournament (SCT) for the first time and the state tournament for only the second time in its young six-year history.“I’ve been there for four years, and this year is a very big accomplishment,” said Pruckowski, a defensive specialist, also known as a libero. “Being in two tournaments is overwhelming and awesome.”Raritan, which is in the middle of the pack in the Shore Conference A Central Division at 6-6, made its SCT debut on Oct. 20 at home against Jackson Liberty High School. Jackson Liberty is a Shore Conference B South team that came in with a 10- 9 record, but it has won only one of five matches that went to a third game.“We worked every single day, and worked hard. A lot of new players challenged us,” Pruckowski said. “It’s a great feeling. We’re definitely ready, definitely excited.”Jackson Liberty was pressed into a third game again, but it came out on top this time against Raritan in the SCT, 25-20, 21- 25, 25-15. Senior setter Nikki Morales had 11 assists.Pruckowski also credited the dedication of head coach Denis Caruano and new assistant coach Sarah Roman, who played volleyball in college and also coaches Raritan’s junior varsity team, which is enjoying a 12-3 season.“They’re very good friends on and off the court, which helps,” Caruano said of his players. “This group remembers the trials and tribulations of losing.”Last season, Raritan had a shot at making the state tournament, but it faltered in its closing matches. It made its only other appearance in the state tournament two years ago when it won eight matches, its highest number of victories before this season. Caruano admitted that he was concerned going into last week before Raritan reached the SCT. The team swept all four of its matches played over four days after backto back losses to St. John Vianney High School and Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School the prior week.“I don’t know if I imagined we’d do this well a couple of months ago. And when we lost to Rumson-Fair Haven, I did not want to see this team have another ‘what if’ for this year,” Caruano said.Last week, Raritan beat Long Branch High School on Oct. 13 and followed with victories over Holmdel High School, Point Pleasant Beach High School and Keyport High School. In the last of those victories, Morales got seven of her 21 aces on the season in one game, as Raritan had a 15-0 edge in that category. She also has 55 assists.Raritan won a pair of close 25-23 games over Point Pleasant Beach.Lily Marten, a senior middle hitter who is the team’s all-time blocks leader in a season with 46, got five against Point Pleasant Beach. She also has 49 kills this season.“We’re very strong in our service game,” Caruano said, citing 155 aces in the first 19 games coming into this week, led by sophomore middle hitter Lauren Christ with 31. “And we have good defense.”Christ had seven kills against Jackson Liberty.That aspect is shared by senior Francesca Svoboda, the other setter in Raritan’s 4-2 formation, and junior outside hitters Katy Peterson and Alexis Sideris as the other starters.Four players graduated from last year’s 7-14 team, but Caruano, who took over the team as coach four years ago after it did not win a game in its first two seasons, believed this team had the makings of a winner.Raritan has been ranked No. 8 in one Shore area poll late in the season. It also got a defining victory when it pulled out a third game against Shore Conference A South opponent Lacey Township High School, which has beaten perennial Shore power Southern Regional High School this season.“From the first game, I thought this season could be special,” Caruano said. “The number I kept saying to the players is 10 for a winning record. Qualifying for the Shore Conference Tournament we thought was a lofty goal.”Making both tournaments means a longer season for Raritan and a shorter break time for Caruano, who starts another season as boys basketball coach at Raritan next month. The state has mandated an earlier start for the basketball season from the Friday after Thanksgiving to the Monday beforehand.“Our offense can be stronger, but we can keep the ball alive. Teams don’t score on us on the first return,” Caruano said about the volleyball team.If there are some shaky moments, there are other players who can step in and help settle things down. Many of them are underclassmen, which bodes well for the future and the prospects of the powerful junior varsity team.Raritan can turn to sophomore defensive specialist Michelle Nestor, who Caruano called a “godsend off the bench” with her solid service game and offense. Senior Erin Gill and junior Gabrielle Pantilla also play on the defense, while senior Franny Nizza and junior Hayley Eckert are two outside hitters ready to step in. Boys basketball As for the boys basketball side, Caruano’s team won only five games last season. However, only three players graduated, and two of them were injured much of last season. This season’s team comes off a solid summer as it prepares for Shore Conference A Central Division play against the likes of Manasquan High School, Holmdel High School, Shore Regional High School, Monmouth Regional High School and Rumson-Fair Haven.Raritan swept five teams through the Ironman Tournament at Kean University over the summer, beating Donovan Catholic in the finals. Junior point guard Joe Strand led the scoring last season, and senior shooting guard Chris Nicholl “had probably his best summer,” Caruano said.Dylan Dewysockie, a 6-foot-5 senior, also had proven playing time last season as the biggest player.“We have seven players who, at any point, can start,” Caruano said with preseason tryouts about a month away. “Our biggest issue last season was turnovers. When we were bad, we had twice as many, from 20 to 30 a game. We’re trying to move the ball up the floor into a secondary break, instead of the traditional point guard handling the ball and instead of motion to attack from the lanes.”Raritan is guard-heavy with juniors Ed Tynion at the shooting spot and athletic Jordan Smith able to play both spots. Senior Jepi Tonuzi was the first guard off the bench over the summer. Others who can play at guard are John Rodriguez, John Guccione and Dan Lehan. Kevin Rodriguez, a senior who transferred from St. John Vianney, is also expected to contribute. RARITAN By WAYNE WITKOWSKI Correspondent last_img read more