CEDAR GROVE — With plenty of high energy and a healthy balance of returning players and newcomers, the Cedar Grove High School girls’ volleyball team has its sights set high as it embarks on a brand new season.
The passionate bunch, led by senior captains Karen Raum, Micaela Kennedy and Tara DeCorte, has been working tirelessly in the preseason, motivated to work harder in the wake of a down season last year. But many of the girls on this year’s team won’t even remember last season’s struggles, as an infusion of new players to the varsity team represents the start of something new at Cedar Grove — something head coach Alicia Angione hopes will bring much success to the program.
“They are young, so they have energy and they know that they have to work hard, but I also think that having these girls for a couple of years — maybe one, two or three — they’re going to develop together and really become a cohesive unit,” said coach Angione. “I think they’re going to be a powerhouse between now and next year.”
While the majority of this Panthers team may be young, key returning seniors will be pivotal to the team’s success. One of those players is outside hitter Raum, a First Team, All-County player who is coming off of a very impressive junior season. She recorded 124 kills and earned 73 service points while also notching 192 digs. In addition to helping lead the team in numbers, Raum and senior classmates Kennedy and DeCorte will be relied on heavily to lead the team — both on the court and off of it.
“Especially since those are my three seniors and my three captains, I expect the most out of them not only on the court, but off the court as a role model and to really set the tone for the team. I think they bring good energy and they really are hard-working, so that’s why I picked them [as team captains],” Angione, in her fourth season as head coach for Cedar Grove, said. “I think they’re just going to help us really push the other girls to succeed — on the court, having good volleyball skills, but off the court, just being good kids.”
Kennedy, reflecting on her leadership role, added: “We just want to keep everyone as positive as we can. I think when we have higher energy, we play better overall, and I think as long as we keep our energy up, stay positive and support each other, we’ll play better as a team.”
Leadership in goods hands, Cedar Grove will be in a very good position to win this season. Another reason for the attainable success will be the realignment of the divisions in the Super Essex Conference. Cedar Grove should benefit from dropping down a division, resulting in playing smaller schools this season who are closer to or at the Group 1 classification that Cedar Grove is, as opposed to playing the larger Group 4s that the Panthers opposed last season.
But by no means does this realignment mean Cedar Grove will only play easier teams. They still will play major rival, Verona, and participate in a tournament in addition to scheduling strong out-of-division teams.
“We still have enough games, where some games should be easier, but some games will be more difficult. Especially the tournament where we play Caldwell, Verona and Mount St. Dominic,” Angione said. “Really want to see how we stand next to them this year.”
The game that the Panthers and their fans have circled on the calendar is the match versus Verona. It will be a Think Pink game at Cedar Grove High School, and it’s quite the event to see. The gym gets packed, often selling out, and to promote Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October), everyone wears pink.
“Our Think Pink is huge, it’s a major rival game. It gets packed in here, it’s insane,” coach Angione said about the anticipated event.
But before the Panthers play under the bright lights, they will continue to work hard in the preseason, with scrimmages starting this week and demanding practices continuing.
“[Preseason is] extremely important, that’s where you learn all your fundamentals,” said Karen Raum. “You've got to get your passing down, that way we can pass, set, hit and that’s how you win games.”
Nothing but positive vibes surround the Cedar Grove volleyball team, and the season is set to start on Sept. 5.
“I expect us to be much better. I really hope we can win. We can win, get far in states, get far in the conference, county tournament, maybe win a conference championship,” says Angione.
“I really have high goals for us.”
2017 Cedar Grove Girls' Varsity Volleyball Roster
Karen Raum, Sr.
Tara DeCorte, Sr.
Micaela Kennedy, Sr.
Alexa Sanducci, Sr.
Loren Vitali, Sr.
Jamie Lynch, Sr.
Briana Kotys, Jr.
Jenna Tronio, Jr.
Maryellen Nealy, Jr.
Madison Chesney, Jr.