RANDOLPH — After enjoying great success and skyrocketing to one of the top teams in the state in 2016, the Randolph High School girls’ volleyball team returns a great deal of talent as it looks to finish what it started a year ago this upcoming season.
Coming off a solid 2016 campaign in which the team finished 19-4 and appeared in the Morris County Tournament final and state quarterfinals, the Rams are fueled by the motivation of coming so close to winning rings in 2016. The motivation comes in large part to the fact that the majority of that team’s starting lineup is returning and eager to get the job done this time.
“That’s really what’s driving us now. Every time we walk into the gym, now the poster is bigger, it’s in the center and there’s nothing on it,” said Brianna Martinez, a senior captain. “It just pushes us and makes us work harder to try and reach our goals.”
Martinez will be one of three captains leading the charge for Randolph this fall. Fellow classmate Stephanie Shaw and junior Caileigh Cox are this year’s captains and will be the focal points of the team on and off the court.
“They’ve been here the longest, so they know where we want to go as a program and the vision that we’ve had since they’ve been freshmen," said head coach Sheri Data, who has been the Randolph JV coach for seven years, and takes over the Varsity squad this season. "I [expect] them to push the girls to that level of play as high as possible."
While ‘The Big Three’ of Martinez, Shaw and Cox have polished leadership qualities, each girls’ skill sets on the court justify their captaincies as well. Cox jumped onto the statewide scene when she recorded 127 service points, 178 kills, 229 digs and blocked 27 balls last year; Shaw led the team with 41 aces and had the second-most service points with 147; and Martinez pumped in 116 service points and 33 aces.
But this year’s Randolph team is so much more than those three girls. The team boasts some of the strongest depth in the area — most of the depth coming from an enormous junior class. In total, there are nine juniors in the program; seven on varsity. While Caileigh Cox is the designated captain of the Class of 2019 corps, Stephanie Renna, Jessica Koop and Alexis Kemp are also juniors who played varsity last year and will be key performers for the Rams. Additionally, there are five juniors who are newcomers to varsity — and two more on the JV team.
Try finding another class that huge.
“This is the largest class that we’ve had and kept in the program. I remember they came in as freshmen, we were just like: ‘This class is ridiculous!’,” said coach Data. “We even kept two juniors on JV because it is so large and they’re good players, we want them in the program — there’s just no room.”
The immense depth of the team should offset the graduation of some key performers from last year’s unit. Kayla Kemp, 2016 leader in service points (158), versatile Elyse Podgurski, and Kayla Heider will be missed by the Rams this season. As a result, the team has to adjust to new defensive and offensive game plans.
“They’re reading the ball better. They’re increasing their range, so they’re playing more the floor and they’re learning how to play next to each other,” Data said. “They’re just playing well together, starting to gel as a defense.
“We’re trying to speed up our offense to get to that next level. We’re definitely a bigger block. And we just tried to get bigger in the offseason.”
The offense isn’t the only aspect of the team that has gotten bigger — so has the fan support. Randolph’s success last year brought students and fans out to the games in droves. For really the first time, a student fan section was formed at the matches and each competition seemed to exponentially gain more attention than the last.
“In previous years, not many people knew about volleyball games; they didn’t know what it was like,” said Stephanie Shaw. “Then last year was the first time that we had a fan section, so a lot of people have grown to love our sport because it’s so fast and everyone cheers.
“We really want that again — to have so much support — because it helps us on the court as well.”
The fans can begin to support Randolph on Sept. 7, when the Rams host Pope John for the season opener. Additionally, Randolph plays a pretty stacked schedule, which is to be expected for such a strong program. Key games include a match with Hudson Catholic on Sept. 20; county final rematch with Mount Olive on Sept. 18; meetings with West Morris on Sept. 29 and Oct. 24; and contests with Roxbury on Oct. 12 and 30.
“Playing those good teams helps us figure out what we need to do to adjust and figure out the way, what works best on the court and just figure out what we’re doing,” said Steph Shaw.
“We want it so bad this year.”