By Steve Sears
It was a great season for the West Morris Mendham High School’s Girls Volleyball team.
Coach Eric Heditsch’s squad finished 28 – 6 on the season, in the process winning the NJAC National Division title, the Morris County Tournament championship over Kinnelon, and then their first ever Group 3 State Title in a 2 – 0 victory over Wayne Valley High School.
Even though the club eventually lost in the Tournament of Champions final round, it was the most successful season in team history as they finished as the #3 ranked team in the state per NJ.com.
The team had a strong 2018 season and, with several players from that team returning, Heditsch envisioned 2019 could be special. “I felt that this group was capable of great things from the very beginning,” says Heditsch, who is in his third season as varsity coach. “We had a lot of talent and desire and it was really a matter of improving in just a few areas as the season progressed. We became better at forcing opponents to earn every point and our blockers and defenders excelled in the high-pressure playoff matches. The girls were able to bounce back from a few early season disappointments and by the time we reached the mid-point of the season we were playing at a very high level and with great confidence. Our focus on the values of teamwork, staying positive and being selfless paid big dividends.”
Per Heditsch, the team had an explosive offense with excellent outside hitting from Lauren Wilcock and Cat Holtz. “Our setters Nora Mulligan and Sarah Wilcock were consistently strong in delivering the ball to our hitters, while also playing great defense. Our backrow passing and digging greatly improved as the season progressed and this turned out to be a great strength in our playoff run. This group was led by libero Michele Kifyak, defensive specialist Julia Trzesniowski and Lauren Wilcock.” Middle blockers Lauren Castignetti and Poppy Skjonnemend were very strong both offensively and defensively, and senior right-side hitters Skye Devereux and Clare McDonough were clutch performers who also provided great leadership.
Mulligan, who has 66 assists on the season, says “It was such an amazing way to end senior year. All of the hard work paid off in the best way possible. I couldn’t stop smiling for days. It was such a rewarding feeling to know that three months of practice and all of those games could end in such an exciting way. I also could not be happier because I got to accomplish something so amazing with my best friends. It was the most incredible feeling for us to be on the court and feel the energy from the crowd cheering us on for that last winning point of the game. Everything came together at the right time and we made history not only for the volleyball program but for our school and all of the people that supported us.” As the championship rounds neared their end, she felt the team was proving they could meet any challenge. “As underdogs against Old Tappan and Colonia everyone was playing at their best and we all had such a positive attitude. By the time we faced Wayne Valley in the championship we were very confident in ourselves and felt like nothing could stop us.”
Julia Trzesniowski, senior defensive specialist who starred this season with 199 digs, adds, “We hit a point in the season when everything seemed to come together. We had a great offense all year with Lauren Wilcock and Cat Holtz leading the charge, but everything took a turn for the best when the defense started to pick up, probably because of the difficult offense we faced in practice every day. The highlight of our season was winning the state championship, not only because we fought so hard, but also because it reflected all of our work and determination throughout the entire year, from the pre-season and practices all the way through the playoffs. Throughout the season we all worked hard to make each other better players and our team dynamic became stronger with each victory.”
2020 looks promising. “We have a very strong group returning,” says Heditsch, “including Lauren Wilcock, Cat Holtz, Sarah Wilcock, Michele Kifyak, Poppy Skjonnemend and Ally Blackwell, along with some excellent players coming up from the JV squad. The team should be in a great position to compete at a similar level again next season.”