MAPLEWOOD, NJ – In what may be unprecedented, Columbia High School girls’ volleyball was rewarded at the end-of-season coaches’ meeting with seven spots in the Super Essex Conference All-Conference teams for the Colonial Division.
With a 9-3 in-division record and finishing the season co-second with Belleville, Columbia earned two first-team spots, three second-team places and two honorable mention spots.
Senior Shayla Keegan, Columbia’s prolific and versatile middle blocker and one of the team’s three senior captains, made it into the first-team for a second straight year. Keegan also plays outside hitter and opposite, which she was tasked to do towards the end of the season to bolster the Maplewood school’s attacking options. Joining her on the first-team is junior Claire Salinardo. A multi-faceted athlete, Salinardo featured as a combo defensive specialist/setter in Columbia’s double-setter rotation. Originally expected to play purely as a defensive specialist, Salinardo was called up to set when one of the other setters on the team, Alyssa Nelson, got injured before Columbia’s first match.
On the All-Conference Second Team, Columbia secured spots for senior setter and co-captain Grace Petroccia, senior libero Abby Valente, and sophomore Jane Fleetwood.
For Valente, the accomplishment is especially impressive since this was her only season on varsity, after three seasons of playing libero for junior varsity.
On the other hand, Fleetwood made it on varsity as a freshman and it was only a matter of time before she made one of the all-conference teams.
Petroccia’s selection to the All-Conference Team is another feather in her cap as she closes her high school career. Earlier in the season, home against Newark Tech, Petroccia broke the 500 career varsity assists milestone. “It’s a honor! Being chosen among other individuals we play against is pretty cool!” Petroccia said of her recognition.
Rounding up the school’s inclusion in the end-of-season accolades are junior Paige Carlson and senior Alisa Stellini, the third senior captain. Carlson, another versatile middle blocker who can also play outside, also spends part of the rotation digging balls in the back row. Also defending the floor is Stellini, who is one of the team’s unsung heroes. She gets her job done quietly with Valente and Salinardo alongside her.
Of his team’s achievement, head coach Juan Bas said, “I think this shows the quality of our team and how much the other coaches in this division this year respect our efforts. The all-conference teams aren’t selected by position. There could be three middles, for example, on first team and I don’t know exactly how the other teams did in terms of balance, but to get my entire starting seven (six and the libero) is amazing. I’m so proud of my girls. We aren’t the kind of team that has one or two girls getting 300 kills a season, but we do produce and I think this kind of achievement shows we produce in every rotation. If they were a Team Of The Year award, I think we’d be in the discussion.”
Salinardo and Fleetwood echoed their coach’s sentiments.
“It’s an amazing honor for seven members of our team to be selected by the other coaches in our conference,” Salinardo said. “The team worked hard and pushed each other to do better and supported each other when things got tough on court. It’s a great recognition not just for the players, but for the coaches and Columbia.”
Fleetwood added, “I feel so honored being selected for an all-team as a sophomore. Being selected makes me want to push myself even more for the next two years. This season was amazing for our team because we supported each other and worked together. I’m so proud of the other six girls who were selected and everyone who was part of our team.”
Although the realignment for 2019 has not yet been finalized by the conference, Bas is confident that his team should move up to the Liberty Division. “We finished co-second and we were the only team to beat champs West Essex. And we did that at West Essex. That should count for something but, for now, it’s about the girls. They were amazing. I congratulate them and I thank them for giving their all this season.”