With new faces in new places, the Bridgewater-Raritan High School girls volleyball team is hoping patience is a virtue this fall.
The Panthers are 7-3, with impressive road wins at J.P. Stevens and Hillsborough and losses to Hunterdon Central, North Hunterdon and rival Ridge. Longtime coach Corey Romanak thinks the inconsistency will iron itself out before long — ideally by the Somerset County Tournament Oct. 6.
“This team has a lot of talent, but when you have new players in new positions, at this level you have to wait,” Romanak said. “They need experience. That’s the one thing holding them back right now. But every time they play, they get better.”
Romanak’s teams typically do. Last year’s squad lost seven matches but won the Somerset County Tournament — upending top-seeded Ridge in the final — and then advanced to the NJSIAA Group IV quarterfinals.
This year a couple of building blocks returned in senior libero Ariel Schwalb, senior middle Samantha Murphy, senior outsider hitter Elizabeth Rynar and versatile senior Julie Lee. Add in much-improved middle Kiera Kennette, Oregon transfer Christina Sparling and contributors Leah Stine and Jenn Koyzra, and the ingredients are there. The pot just needs some stirring.
“We hadn’t played together that much,” Lee said. “So we got together over the summer and played beach volleyball (three or four weekends). It really helped our teamwork on the court.”
Unlike many of Romanak’s past championship teams, there is no dominant player.
“For us to be successful everybody has to be on,” the coach said. “It’s nice to have that 6-4, 6-5 girl, but we don’t have that this year.”
That presents challenges, obviously, but there are rewards as well.
“I like it so much better,” Lee said. “As a setter it gives me so many more options. I’ve got to trust all my teammates. It’s a lot easier as a whole.”
The Panthers will test how far they’ve come on Tuesday in a rematch with Ridge, and the chances are high that the two will meet in the county tournament four days later at Hillsborough. It’s become a nice local rivalry; Bridgewater-Raritan had won seven straight county crowns before Ridge took the title in 2010.
“That’s definitely one of our priorities, to come out on top again this year,” Lee said. “The girls all know about the seven-year streak. We’d definitely like to bring that back.”