Mendham coach Kathleen Tucky knows just what’s going to happen this afternoon.
The Minutemen will come to their gym, all wearing red uniforms and the same hair ties they’ve used throughout the Morris County Tournament.
They’ll all talk about anything except the MCT final against Montville tonight. If anyone dares to breathe a word about the match — even the thought Mendham might win — the players will immediately drop to the gym floor to knock on wood.
Tucky will run practice, doing the same drills as usual. The Minutemen will sit in the same seats for the bus ride to Roxbury, where the MCT final is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.
Once they arrive, they’ll plug an iPod into the school’s sound system with a mix Mikki Sharp made from songs suggested by each of the players. Once Mendham hears “Gas Pedal” by Sage The Gemini, they’ll start the same warm-up from every other MCT match.
After that, when it is actually time to play, Tucky isn’t sure what will happen.
Mendham faced Montville in a regular-season match on Sept. 16, winning in three games — the third 26-24. But everyone involved in tonight’s MCT final acknowledges that was a long time ago. Both teams have developed and changed — and that was before they got a chance to size each other up during last Saturday’s semifinals.
“We’ve got to keep playing and practicing as normal,” Mendham opposite Bridget Farley said. “We know what’s coming, but we can’t be cocky about it. They want it as much as we do, so we have to want it more.”
The Minutemen were last in the MCT final in 2009, and won the county title the previous year, when Sharp’s older sister, Lauren, was on the team. This is Montville’s first time in the MCT final, part of a season filled with new experiences.
“It’s amazing,” said outside hitter Bria Corham, one of eight seniors on the Mustangs roster. “This is our best chance to make something big of the program. … I think we can beat them. I think we have it in us. I think a lot of girls want to beat them, because they’re our one loss.”
The teams have a lot of parallels, starting with strong setters: senior Nicole Dvoretsky for Montville and Mendham’s Stephanie Blair. Both are athletic, and can get the ball to any spot on the court — key to their diverse offenses.
Corham and junior outside hitter Megan Braden are the Mustangs who have attracted the most attention. Middle hitter Gillian O’Dowd also makes significant contributions to the offense, along with junior Mia DePasquale, one of the few newcomers to a group which has developed together during the past three seasons.
“They believe in each other,” Montville coach Pat Lyons said. “I get amazed, if they’re clicking, how great they look. I do believe their desire to win and succeed for each other is their greatest strength … the team moving as a unit instead of six individuals.”
The Mustangs defeated Hanover Park in the first round, then eliminated four-time defending champion West Morris in a quarterfinal and Morristown — itself an upset specialist — last Saturday. Top-seeded Mendham cruised past Parsippany Hills, Kinnelon, and then Madison.
“It’s exciting to be on the team that proves ourselves,” Minutemen middle hitter Jamie Shirtz said. “It’s so nice to be in the spotlight, but a lot of pressure. We always say it’s the same game. We always play our game, always go all out, always play our hardest.”