The West Morris and Roxbury girls volleyball teams have a lot in common. Current Gaels coach Beth Grasso founded the West Morris program, launching many of the traditions which continue today. Wolfpack head coach Jim Balella was her longtime assistant, and some of the current players’ older siblings played for both coaches.
Before the Morris County Tournament final on Saturday afternoon, both teams will likely have breakfast together before a light practice at each home gym. They’ll probably go through visualization exercises, perhaps a pep talk linked to the season-long mission. Then, it’ll be time to get on the bus to Randolph to actually play the game.
This is the Gaels’ first trip to the MCT final since the first two years, 2000 and 2001 — a pair of losses to West Morris. The Wolfpack has played in all but one MCT final and won 12 of the 15 championships.
But after relying on Gabriella Savite for four years, “it’s a unique year” for West Morris, according to senior outside hitter Abby Rec. The players have risen to the challenge, building chemistry “that made us able to recover or keep up the momentum.”
The top-seeded Wolfpack defeated No. 17 Hanover Park, eighth-seeded Morris Hills and No. 5 Jefferson en route to the finale. Roxbury, the second seed, eliminated No. 15 Villa Walsh, No. 7 Randolph and sixth-seeded Morris Knolls, each in two games.
“We know how to play Roxbury volleyball,” Gaels senior Andie Ackerman said. “We’ve prepared every day for the final, and we’re excited.”
These teams have already met twice, with West Morris winning both: 25-13, 17-25, 25-19 on Oct. 5 — one of two three-game matches for the Wolfpack —and 25-22, 25-9 on Oct. 22.
Roxbury’s height made quite an impression on West Morris. The Gaels have five players who are at least 5-foot-10: 6-foot-2 outside hitter Lauren Kornmann, 6-foot middles Reghan Palanci and Liz Tucker, 5-foot-11 senior Joelle Marston, and 5-foot-10 junior Haley Cook.
“We hit harder and block harder against them. We play so much more aggressively,” West Morris setter Katelyn Paxson said. “They’re a really big rival, and we play really well against them. It’s our senior year, and we’re really motivated to win. Knowing it’s your last year with all your friends in high school, it’s bittersweet, but I’m so excited.”
Staff Writer Jane Havsy: 973-428-6682; [email protected]; http://www.dailyrecord.com/writerjane/