The Barnegat High School girls volleyball team made history in defeat Thursday night.
The Bengals were the first team in their school’s 10-year history to qualify for an NJSIAA sectional championship game.
Ninth-seeded Barnegat, however, fell to No. 4 Sterling 2-1 in Group II Section A at Madison High School’s tiny gymnasium.
Barnegat lost the third game 25-14. The Bengals (20-8) won the second 25-22 and lost the opener 25-16.
“The teams were evenly matched,” said Karla Jennings, the Bengals’ eighth-year coach and the founder of the program. “This environment was distracting. It took us one game to work through it. We raised our level of play.”
Jennings told her Bengals after the match she was happy with their performance this year.
“I told our girls, ‘Don’t hang your heads. Be proud of what you accomplished,’ ” she said.
Sterling (23-7) closed the third game with a 6-2 run. The Silver Knights of Camden County clinched the championship on a kill by Emily Kriebel.
“Some of our shots went awry in the third game,” Jennings said. “Our team was strong and scrappy to come back and force a third game.”
The Bengals cut their deficit to 19-12 on the second of two kills by senior middle blocker-outside hitter Sara Ridgway before the Silver Knights went to work.
A Ridgway kill tied the game at four. Sterling went ahead to stay 5-4 when a Ridgway kill attempt sailed wide of the court.
In the second game, Barnegat went on a 10-2 run for a 13-7 lead.
Ridgway opened the surge with a kill to cut the Silver Knights’ lead to 5-4. Junior outside hitter Maia Lloyd tied the game at five with an ace. Sterling’s Leilani Naone-Carter posted a block for a 6-5 lead. Ridgway followed with a kill to tie the game at six. A Ridgway serve landed out of bounds, putting Sterling ahead 7-6.
Barnegat senior outside hitter Meg Nichols blasted home a kill to tie the game at seven. Amy Bruno gave the Bengals their first lead of the match, 8-7, with a kill. Naone-Carter slammed a kill attempt into the net to send Barnegat in front 9-7. Bruno and Nichols teamed on a block for a 10-7 lead. Bruno made it 11-7 with a kill.
Junior setter-defensive specialist Nikki Casertano followed with an ace for a 12-7 lead. Ridgway capped the surge with a kill.
“We served tough and they were not able to set up their offense,” Jennings said. “Our hitters hit their shots where they were told to hit them. Sterling did not play as aggressively in the second game as it did in the first.”
Barnegat capped the second game with a 5-2 run. Bruno and Nichols teamed for a block to give the Bengals the win.
In the first game, Sterling led from start to finish. The Silver Knights closed the game with a 16-10 run, winning on a kill by Naone-Carter.
Ridgway led the Shore Conference Class B South champion Bengals with 17 kills and five digs in the match. Nichols added eight kills and four digs. Casertano handed out 30 assists and scrapped for six digs. Bruno added five kills and three blocks. Junior outside hitter Beth Elsasser contributed four kills.
Elsasser slammed a water bottle to the floor in disgust after the match while walking to her team’s final huddle of the season. Prior to the match, the Bengals sported black and orange (their school colors) T-shirts that said, “Being the best that you can be . . . is possible only if your desire to be a champion is greater than your fear of failure.”
Earlier in the tournament, the Bengals ousted top-seeded Wall, No. 8 Mahwah and No. 24 Orange.
“It bummed me that we were the number nine seed,” Jennings said, “but somehow it worked out. We had a bad loss that resulted in us being seeded ninth, but we still have a lot to be proud of.”