Photo: The West Orange High School varsity girls’ volleyball team won a Super Essex Conference division championship for the second year in a row. Bottom row from left: Charlene Ramos, Saniyiah Richardson, and Jada Jones. Second row: Hannah Winter, Jazmin Chavez, Kena Arthus, Selene Headley, and Kaija Jones. Third row from left: Head coach Jackie Cruz, Racheal Ezomo, Indigo Jackson, Madison Mitchell, Aliya Perkins, Cassidy Ferrell, Kendal Hoges, Onye Bosco, Gaby Uribe, and assistant coach Caniece Williams.
WEST ORANGE, NJ – The West Orange High School varsity girls’ volleyball team enjoyed another championship season under head coach Jackie Cruz.
The Lady Mountaineers captured their second division championship on Oct. 27, beating Belleville in two sets. West Orange and Bloomfield are the co-champs of the Super Essex Conference-Liberty Division.
With last year’s win in the Colonial Division, the girls were moved up to the Liberty Division.
A day prior to beating Belleville, the team defeated Passaic County Tech, 26-24, 25-23, in the preliminary round of the NJSIAA Group 4 state tournament.
West Orange concluded its season with a loss at top-seeded Ridge, 25-14, 25-18, in the first round of the state tournament on Oct. 31 to finish with an impressive 14-9 record.
“I am very proud of what we have accomplished this past season,” Cruz said. “Given our tough schedule, the girls improved as the season progressed. The girls have worked very hard this season. All summer the girls worked, day in and day out. We played in the Bloomfield Summer League, went to Penn State Summer Camp, and had numerous strength and conditioning sessions with our very own coach, David Grant. We knew we were going to have a lot more competition this season, which enforced more hard work and commitment from the girls. It was great to see the girls compete. We battled through a lot of challenges and were able to garner another SEC Liberty Division Championship. Our girls are extremely athletic and they were able to put that together.
“A lot of coaches that have superb volleyball programs have complimented our team about our athleticism and height,” added Cruz. “I always mentioned to the girls that we are one of the most athletic teams in the SEC and we have to use that to our advantage. This year, the Liberty Division was not an easy one. I believe all teams were pretty much even in their own way. We all had our strengths and weaknesses as every division does, but not one outshone the other.”
Cruz explained the team’s strtegy for success.
“I tried to remind the girls in order for us to win another conference title, we were going to have to use the other teams’ weaknesses as part of our strengths. We played against all of our teams in our conference in the past, so that helped when it came to preparing and planning. The girls knew what was expected and played to win.”
Cruz, indeed, will miss the graduating seniors.
“The seniors will be missed,” she said. “They all dedicated their time and efforts and are a huge part to our program’s success. They definitely set the bar high for West Orange Volleyball. I remember when they were freshmen, they always said their biggest goal was to get the first Volleyball banner in our gym with some sort of championship on it and they did for two consecutive years. There will be a lot of missing pieces going into next year’s season from our dominate hitters and blockers like Aliya Perkins, Madison Mitchell, Cassidy Ferrell, and Kendal Hoges, to the girls who defended and kept the ball alive like Kena Arthus and Selene Headley. I believe this group of girls have elevated our program to an unprecedented level.”
Looking ahead, Cruz realizes that moving up another division will be even more of a challenge.
“From the looks of it, next season we are most likely going to move up to the top division and play against powerhouse schools like Verona, Livingston, and Mount St. Dominic. The next group coming in knows they have big shoes to fill and will have to collaborate in order to be successful.”
Along with JV and Freshman coaches Caniece Montague and Meghan Colabella, Cruz has already begun planning.
“Next year, we are going to be young but the work ethic is tremendous,” Cruz said. “The girls know that they will have to work extremely hard and play clean ball. I’m excited for the next season. Although we are graduating six seniors and we probably won’t have the height we were fortunate to have, in the next few years we will have more skilled athletes which will make up for the athleticism that is being lost.”
For now the team is enjoying their second division championship and the relationships they have built with each other as they prepare for states.
“I am very proud of the work the girls have put in for this season. We are still in the run for states and I hope the girls are striving for more,” Cruz concluded.