WEST ORANGE, NJ — With a 12-0 record in division play and a 17-3 overall, the West Orange High School girls volleyball team captured its third division title last week with a victory over Columbia.
"Columbia gave us a battle during the first set—the score 35-33," said West Orange head coach Jackie Cruz. "Our girls looked more composed during the second set, and we won, 25-15, making us undefeated in our Liberty Division."
With only three losses all season to Verona, Morris Knolls and Livingston, this year's title is the third division championship for Cruz in her five years of coaching.
"Our girls are really starting to understand what it takes to compete," she said. "I try to remind them that every day will be a challenge and that we must train harder than the day before. We seem to be more physically and mentally inclined this year than in past years. All of our players are determined."
Cruz added that the Mountaineers' focus for the season's mid-way point is to focus on their mentality. Noting that players put more pressure on themselves than the coaches do, Cruz said she always tells her girls that they are going to make mistakes, that no one is perfect and that their talents will shine through their mistakes if they focus on the positives.
As a whole, Cruz said that 2019 has been a tremendous year for the Mountaineers.
"This might be one of the best volleyball teams West Orange has had, physically and mentally," she said. "The chemistry between the team is amazing and our volleyball IQ is growing."
The coach specifically mentioned a recent matchup against Leonia, one of the top schools in Bergen County, which she said was the most competitive game the Mountaineers have played to date.
"Leonia had the best defense we've seen all year and it challenged our girls to execute at a level that was physical, but even more mental," she said. "Our physical ability came through when we were able to close out plays. Volleyball is almost like chess. You have to know your next move before you make it; it becomes more of a strategic game when facing teams with great defense."
Cruz said she is proud of the team's success thus far, but that she believes there is "a lot more to come."
"As one of the youngest coaches in the game, I still have a lot to learn, but I am willing to take those strides," said Cruz. "I like to reflect on what other coaches do and how they handle situations, whether it is formation or just composure during games.
"It's the same story for our boys. I believe our student-athletes here at West Orange have a lot to give, and I am hoping that the coaching staff: Caniece Williams, Gina Graziosa, John Chang and Christopher Terranova and I can bring it out of all of them."
West Orange was seeded fifth in the Essex County Tournament, which began last weekend.