MONTVALE - River Dell dropped its first set of the season, 25-23, but came back to win the next two sets in a 2-1 thriller over Pascack Hills Tuesday afternoon.
“We had them Week 1ne and they didn’t look like this,” said River Dell head coach Dianne Furusawa, speaking of Pascack Hills. “They took that one 25-point game in the finals of the Clarkstown Tournament. They beat Demarest and they beat a team from New York that is quite good. I knew that would give them confidence and they really played very well.”
“It was very surprising,” said RD senior Samantha Grandich of the first set loss. “But they’re a good team and they play hard. We just weren’t on our game in the first set.”
The Cowgirls never trailed in that first set. They grabbed a 2-1 lead on an errant serve and led by as many as six as senior Alexa Belnick pounded four kills and junior Erin Hedrick contributed three kills and two blocks. But River Dell, which remained undefeated with the win, fought back and tied the game, 22-22, on a Hills attack error. Grandich had four kills during the comeback.
But Hedrick blasted a kill, junior libero Maddie Valko served an ace and Hedrick blocked a Hawks kill for the winning point as Hills closed out the first set, 25-22.
“When we lost the first one we knew we had to take it to three [sets],” said Hawks junior Emma Plutnicki. “We were trying to do whatever we could to win and push it all the way to the end.”
River Dell came alive in the second set, taking the lead for good, 2-1, on a kill by Grandich.
The teams traded points for a while but then the Hawks began to pull away. They went on a 6-0 run, including five service winners by senior Faith Herity to boost the lead to 15-7. Later, a mini 5-2 run by the Cowgirls, featuring a pair of blocks by Hedrick, cut into the lead, but a 5-0 run gave the Hawks a 25-14 win.
“I think we were all motivated to win this game because we knew it was going to be tough,” Plutnicki said. “We all pushed through. The entire day we were hyping ourselves up and we knew what we had to do to win.”
The final two points were blocks by Plutnicki, who also had four kills in the set. She and junior teammate Makayla Serrett made a terrific tandem in the front row, blocking shots and pounding kills.
“We’re best friends and that translates on and off the court,” Plutnicki said. “We’re always together and we have a really strong connection. I like getting her the ball whenever necessary and I know she’ll put it down on the floor.”
“It’s awesome,” Grandich said of the pair. “They jump so high and they’re already tall. Their heads are over the net for their blocks. It’s awesome to watch. Next year should be a good team too.”
The third set was close early. River Dell took the lead for good, 4-3, but Pascack Hills stayed within two points through the first half of the set. That changed when Plutnicki and senior Jenna Karpowich combined for seven service winners during a 9-1 run to make it 18-9 Hawks. Grandich took it from there blasting three of her five third-set kills to close out the match 25-12.
“We [only] have three people who started varsity last year,” Gradich said. “It’s not a lot. We got better really fast. We’re meshing really well. We had a really good preseason where we worked a lot on rotations. They got the hang of it pretty quick.”
“Samantha makes it look easy,” Furusawa said. “She’s a kid I’ve had for four years. She was a right side hitter her freshman year, a middle hitter her sophomore year and we won a state championship that year. Her junior year she was moved to the outside. I’ve moved her around because I know what she’s capable of doing.”
Grandich finished with 11 kills, Plutnicki had 9 kills and 2 blocks and Serrett added 7 kills.
Hedrick finished with 7 kills and 4 blocks but the Cowgirls committed 15 attack errors in the match.
“I think that River Dell did a really good job of exhausting us,” said Hills coach Lindsay Runge. “We started out really well and they were excited but they may have gotten tired. River Dell did a very good job of moving the ball around and making us tired.”
One point of concern for the Hawks were the 10 service errors they made in the match.
“The first set we struggled and even later on we struggled keeping the serve in,” said Furusawa. “You can’t win big tournaments like counties and states by doing that.”
Defense was also a big part of the match. On offense both teams were pounding the ball to try and score points. But the two defenses were able to dig many of those hard shots and keep the ball alive.
“We were OK,” Furusawa said. “We’re getting there. At the beginning of the season I was really worried. Their defense was digging too. Their libero (Valko) was excellent.”
“We’ve been working on that a lot,” added Runge. “We have a few players who can move and that’s been really helpful. Their play is dynamic and it helps us move around a lot.
“They’re a really good group of girls. They do everything together and like being on the same team, playing together. They’re not afraid to coach each other up and they accept it. We still have a lot to work on. We know what we have to work on and we just have to keep working on it. It’s really good that we had this game so we can see more of our weaknesses and build up on them.”
River Dell improved to 11-0, while Pascack Hills slipped to 9-2.
“This was the first set we dropped so far,” Furusawa said. “We lost the first set and we came back to win the next two. I was very happy with what we did.”
“We came to win,” said Grandich. “We knew it was for the division and would lead us into counties and states and we wanted to get a win out of it.”
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