BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Governor Livingston Highlanders girls volleyball team kicked its 2019 season off with a trio of wins at the Jersey Classic Tournament against quality opponents in Ramsey, River Dell, and Bogota. Making the Highlanders’ tournament championship even sweeter was the championship game victory against Bogota, last year’s Group 1 champions.

The win against Bogota gave the Highlanders a first-place finish in the silver bracket and much-needed momentum in the season’s early goings.

The trio of early wins may have surprised many due to the Highlanders breaking in a number of new players. One person who was not surprised was head coach Dana Hilaire who knew all along that her team would still be able to compete against the best of the best despite losing key performers from last year’s team to graduation in Bella Sottosanti and Mikayla Sanchez.

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“Our team has a lot of fresh faces but they are finding out early that they can rely on each other,” Hilaire said. “The team did so many great things in this tournament which allowed us to gain momentum in those difficult matches and ultimately, have success in tough situations.”

Hilaire was particularly pleased with her players doing a lot of the little things that led to the big victories.

“Our blocking and coverage during the tournament were the best they’ve shown so far,” Hilaire said. “Competing against such highly-regarded teams in the Jersey Classic forced us to step up and fight for every point.”

“Governor Livingston volleyball handled setbacks very well today and I believe this lead to the ability to push through and come out on top.”

The Highlanders’ performance in the Jersey Classic Tournament has raised Hilaire’s excitement level for the season as she anticipates what her team could become.

“While we are a young team overall, I’m looking forward to watching them grow and progress together,” Hilaire, who is entering her sixth season at the helm said.

Among the newcomers are the sophomores Brooke Gyory, Abby Pereira, Sam Roenbeck and Gabriele Debowski, and freshman Katie Brokes. Gyory will contribute in the middle, Pereira will contribute the right side, and Roenbeck and Brokes defensively.

Hilaire also has a plethora of key returnees who contributed at the varsity level last season. Returning at the setter positions will be senior Lauren Zyska and juniors Olivia Teska and Bella An. Senior Jess Poulos returns to hold down one of the middle positions while fellow senior Evan Pallitta returns to lead the Highlanders’ defense as a specialist. 

Rounding out the returnees are juniors Leah Dooley and Ashley Parker, who will both contribute on the outside.

Hilaire has a nice mix of returning contributors on offense and defense that should help to offset any growing pains for the new players.

“Our offense will be a strength this year,” Hilaire said. “Our defense started off shaky but is quickly picking up.”

If the Highlanders’ defense continues its upward trend towards matching the contributions of the offense, the wins will become less surprising.