RANDOLPH – Katelyn Paxson couldn’t help but touch her left cheek gingerly. West Morris’ senior setter’s face had collided with a teammate’s elbow in the third game of the Morris County Tournament semifinal against Jefferson.
But, Paxson cheerfully said, “It’s all good, because we got the block. It’s all worth it.” The Wolfpack also got a hard-fought 25-16, 22-25, 25-17 victory in the semifinal.
Top-seeded West Morris will get a chance to defend its MCT title against Roxbury on Halloween back at Randolph. The second-seeded Gaels defeated Morris Knolls, 25-16, 25-19, in the early semifinal.
The Wolfpack has won 12 of the 15 MCT finals since the event was founded in 2000. But this is “a unique year,” according to senior outside hitter Abby Rec, with many juniors and less experienced seniors stepping into important roles.
“I’m super excited,” Rec said. “Jefferson was coming in as the underdog. We’d never played them before, so we didn’t know what talent they had. We were able to pull it out.”
Though Jefferson was the fifth seed and a newcomer to the MCT semis, the players were not intimidated. Senior Julia Murawinski asserted herself almost immediately, with two tips, a kill off a block and consecutive aces for the Falcons’ first five points.
West Morris was able to capitalize on some Jefferson errors to build a lead. But, once again, the Falcons didn’t back away in the second game, and the score seesawed back and forth. Murawinski blocked a Wolfpack ball to tie the score at 11, and had two blocks and a kill as Jefferson built a three-point lead. Junior Olivia Urciuoli served an ace to put the Falcons up 17-12, and West Morris coach Jim Balella called timeout.
The Wolfpack rallied, and tied the score at 21-21 on kills by junior Katie O’Keefe and Rec. However, Falcons senior outside hitter Schyler White had two kills, and Murawinski tipped in the final point.
It was just the second time undefeated West Morris (21-0) had dropped a game this season. The other was in a three-game defeat of Roxbury on Oct. 5.
“That’s an accomplishment on its own, to get a win off them, 25 points,” Falcons coach Marc Gaydos said. “The girls fought hard. I’m glad they put up a good show.”
Murawinski led Jefferson with 12 kills, six blocks, a dig and five aces. White added five kills, two blocks, an ace and a dig.
West Morris was able to pull away for good in the third game behind a pair of aces by senior opposite Danielle Wohning, then two points from senior middle hitter Alexa Shello, and an ace from O’Keefe.
Rec had eight kills, a block and eight digs for West Morris, including the final kill down the line which ended the semifinal. Wohning added four kills, a block and eight digs.
“It’s amazing,” Paxson said. “We worked really hard to get there. We knew we deserved it the most. We put in a lot of work. We’re always working, always pushing ourselves to improve.”
Staff Writer Jane Havsy: 973-428-6682; [email protected]; http://www.dailyrecord.com/writerjane/