Bev Torok is entering her 19th season at the helm of the Westfield High School girls volleyball team, but there was a time she wasn’t sure she’d make it this far.
Diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in the spring of 2008, Torok, a tireless mentor, had treatment to remove a tumor in May of that year. She returned to the sidelines the following fall, but to her own frustration, “took a bit of backseat” as far as coaching duties were concerned.
“That was a very different coaching year for me because I didn’t have the energy I usually had,” said Torok, who was receiving regular chemotherapy treatments during that season.
“Often times I brought a chair to practice and watched instead of hitting balls around. You have to roll with the punches though, and do what you have to do. Luckily, everything is behind me.”
Although cancer physically isn’t impacting the program five years later — Torok is in remission — its legacy lives on.
While teams in most scholastic sports raise funds to benefit cancer research, what’s been happening at Westfield for the past four seasons is relatively off the charts.
The Blue Devils’ annual “Pink Out Game” — this year scheduled for Oct. 11 against Watchung Hills — has generated incredible support. For a sport that rarely generates great fan support in terms of numbers at games, Westfield’s annual cancer recognition date is booming and still on the rise.
“It’s a cause so near and dear to us,” said Blue Devils senior libero and co-captain Elena Scarano. “Each year we try to make ‘Pink Out’ even more of a success. We’re such a tight-knit community and our success is reflective on how hard everyone works.”
During the past four seasons, Westfield High’s volleyball community has raised a whopping $52,000 for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Last year alone, more than $20,000 was raised and the team has set the bar even higher this season.
Scarano described how Oct. 11 has become a right of passage.
“Right after school, we decorate the gym with pink balloons and ribbons, and it’s an overwhelming experience,” she said.
“The gym is packed for the annual game, and nearly everyone is dressed in pink right on down to the officials sporting pink whistles,” Torok said.
At game’s end, each team will form a “Survivor Tunnel” by girls from both teams — freshman JV and varsity — joining hands and five cancer survivors will make their way through the tunnel as they receive cheers from the crowd and high-fives from the players.
“It’s a very emotional night for us,” said Torok.
Torok credits not only her players — past and present — for their tireless dedication to soliciting donations and support, but also the support of the players’ parents and the community as a whole. As she explained, parents will often donate big-ticket items such as Giants or Jets tickets for a silent auction. Even the local yogurt vendor in town is supportive.
“It’s not just about raising money, it’s about raising awareness,” Torok said.
The North Jersey chapter of the Susan G. Komen Foundation will present the team with an award of recognition at a banquet sometime this fall.
Westfield, which has captured four Union County Tournament titles under Torok with the last coming in 2006, has a bitter taste in its mouth after winning the first set in last year’s county final before dropping the next two sets and ultimately the title to Roselle Catholic.
“Losing (the UCT final) last year was tough,” said Scarano. “I know we can get back there this year, and we’ll do everything we physically can not to let it slip away again.”
AROUND THE AREA
Defending Skyland Conference champion Bridgewater-Raritan will field its youngest team in years with a total of five freshmen and sophomores in the starting lineup. “I’m excited to work with a group of girls with raw talent,” said Panthers coach Corey Romanak.
Westfield setter Kayla Rodriquez should be a solidifying force in running the Blue Devils’ offense as she’s coming off a junior season in which she ranked third in the county with 311 assists.
Union Catholic always fields a tough squad, and despite losing several key pieces to graduation, one big component will be back in play for the Vikings in 2013. Krystyna Maceiejak, a senior outside hitter, is returning after striking 135 kills last season.
Katie Middleton led North Hunterdon to the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex Tournament title last season as a setter (242 assists). This season, however, she’s moving to middle blocker.
Coming off a 9-11 campaign, Hillsborough could be a team on the upswing in Somerset County. The Raiders return a junior middle blocker Cari Coetzer and senior setter Rachael Manalow to solidify the lineup.
Watching Hills is coming off its best season in program history, going 16-9 and winning a state tournament game, and the Warriors will have back their vocal leader at libero in Hana Sawanobori.