JEFFERSON TOWNSHIP, NJ - In its short existence as a varsity program, the Gov. Livingston High girls volleyball program has made significant strides in each season its participated.
Two days after earning its first-ever state tournament victory, the Lady Highlanders took yet another huge step forward posting a 25-23, 25-19 decision over 12th-seeded Jefferson in the second round of the NJSIAA Group 2 tournament on Thursday afternoon in Jefferson Township.
"Its pretty amazing but this is definitely not unexpected," said Gov. Livingston head coach Dana Hilaire. "We knew we were capable of doing well and had an idea of the potential this team had."
Gov. Livingston, which improved to a program-best 16-5, was seeded 28th out of 32 participating teams in the Group 2 bracket.
Against Jefferson (19-8), the Lady Highlanders were led by Lauren Zyska (eight assists, six digs, three kills, three aces), Katie Brokes (nine digs), Brooke Gyory (two kills, one block), Ashley Parker (five digs, three kills, four aces), Abby Periera (two kills), Isabella An (seven assists, two digs, one ace) and Leah Dooley (nine kills, two digs, three aces).
"Today we started out very clean and our team chemistry was on," said Hilaire. "And even though we won the first set it was very close. And we got down by quite a bit in the second set but once we got into the rotation we wanted it we were able to rally."
On Tuesday, Nov. 5, the Lady Highlanders upset fifth-seeded Pascack Hills, which is ranked 13th in the state, in three sets (20-25, 25-21, 25-21) to claim its first post-season victory after being ousted in the first round of the states the previous three seasons.
"It was a back-and-forth match and even though we dropped the first set things were able to fall onto place for us," said Hilaire. "All three sets were nail-biters and it really was a great match to win."
Gov. Livingston was led in that victory by Zyska (11 assists, five kills, four digs, one ace), Brokes (12 digs, 11 assists, one ace), Jessica Poulos (two kills, one block, one assist), Gyory (three blocks), Parker (six kills, six digs, three aces), Olivia Teska (eight assists, seven digs, two aces), Periera (four kills, one dig) and Dooley (16 kills, four digs, one ace).
Gov. Livingston will now travel to Sussex county to take on fourth-seeded Sparta in a Group 2 quarterfinal on Saturday, Nov. 9 at 10 a.m.
If the Lady Highlanders win, they would meet either top-seeded Rutherford or ninth-seeded Indian Hills in the semifinal round on Nov. 13.
Hilaire, a 2003 Cranford High graduate, helped start the girls volleyball program at the Berkeley Heights school in the fall of 2014 with a junior varsity only squad.
The first varsity season followed in 2015 and the first state tournament appearance occurred the following year.
"I've been here since the beginning and I'm very proud of how well the program has done," said Hilaire. "But the credit goes to the girls that have played for us and have done what it takes to succeed."