VERONA, NJ - The Verona Girls Volleyball Team is moving onward to defend their title in the Essex County Tournament following a grueling 2-0 victory over Columbia on Saturday.

    “It was fun and it was a pretty hard game,” said Patricia Rakova. 

    The Hillbillies were challenged to see how deep they would dig in order to get a victory. Tied at 23 the squad needed points and turned to Rakova to get a crucial go ahead kill. 

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    “I just wanted to hit it straight because it’s counties and I wanted to continue my volleyball journey,” said Rakova.

    Rakova converted on the kill to put Verona up 24-23. Shortly thereafter Megan Meehan added a kill of her own to close out the tight game one for Verona.

    “It’s nerve-racking, I tell them to expect there to be a fight always.  If you expect there not to be a fight and there is one you’re a little overwhelmed, but if you expect there to be a fight for every single point, every single game than maybe more times than not we’ll be underwhelmed,” said Head Coach Ryan Brown.

    In game one another key factor was Ashley Duhaney. Duhaney produced three kills, two aces and a block in the first game to propel the squad onward to victory. Duhaney had a team-high eight kills for the afternoon for Verona. 

    “[Duhaney] did very well along with [Rakova] we really rely on those two,” said Brown.

    Verona perhaps overlooked an underrated Columbia team that came into the contest with a 6-13 record. The 13 seeded Columbia squad was a bounce away from telling an underdog story and knocking off the reigning champs.

    “We came out a little bit flat and the girls know that.  We picked it up a bit towards the end -- we picked up our first contact, our serving, our receiving, but it wasn’t where it needs to be,” said Brown.  

    Ultimately Verona used the momentum in the first game to propel them onward into game two. Key serves from Jessica Loudon helped the Hillbillies storm out to 19-14 lead. Loudon finished game two with a trio of aces and 11 service points. 

    “[Loudon]’s serving and first contact in that first set were a little flat, she cleaned it up toward the end.  We got her contacts where they needed to be, but those three aces really helped us pull away in the second set,” said Brown.

    Verona improves to 15-6 on the season as they’ve won two games in a row. The fourth seeded Hillbillies will await the winner of West Orange and MKA. 

    “[We need to] learn from today, learn from the stuff that we did well, seeing what worked and also seeing what we can do better and some other stuff we can learn from playing another good team next week whoever it is,” said Brown.

TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove  is an online newspaper serving the Townships of Verona and Cedar Grove. TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove is accredited by the New Jersey Press Association, and is a locally owned news organization serving the community.

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