Old Tappan rallies past Northern Highlands

Old Tappan dropped the first set but surged back to claim the final two in a 3-set comeback against Northern Highlands in the Bergen County Tournament Round of 16.

OLD TAPPAN – Northern Valley/Old Tappan, the reigning Tournament of Champions winner, bounced back from a first set loss to Northern Highlands, to post a 23-25, 25-15, 25-11 win in the Round of 16 of the 43rd Annual Bergen County Volleyball Tournament Saturday afternoon.

“We cleaned things up late in the first set and we established momentum that took us into the second and third sets,” said Old Tappan coach Melissa Landeck.

“I think that sometimes we get into our own heads when we are just starting out,” said senior Alexandra Trouilloud. “We have to realize we’re a really good team. I think the confidence really completes that. Until we get that later on in the set we don’t really feel like ourselves.”

Northern Highlands came out flying; blocking shots and playing spectacular defense. Seniors Kelly Van Orden and Jordan Madison were pounding kills.

“I’m very proud - they really came out on fire,” said Highlanders coach Caryn Schanstine. “There wasn’t anything we were doing wrong. That’s the game of volleyball. You have to limit the amount of errors and play your game as much as possible. And I think we did that.”

“Northern Highlands came out really strong and played really clean,” said Landeck. “We came out sloppy. I don’t know if it’s nerves in our first county game or a little too much adrenaline. Once we settled in I liked the way we played in the latter half of the first set.”

NV/Old Tappan was down 23-13 after Highlanders senior Sarah Fontanese dove and punched the ball over the net and into an open area on the Knights side of the court in that first set. The Golden Knights won the next point and junior setter Kelly Chen earned four service winners, including the ace to cut the lead to 23-18.

Northern Highlands won a point and the Highlanders were a point away from the first set. Knights sophomore Gianna Fasano smacked a kill and then stepped to the service line. She won the next four points to get within one, 24-23. But the Golden Knights made an attack error and Highlands took the first set, 25-23.

The Highlanders may have taken the first set, but Old Tappan had clearly taken back the momentum.

“Highlands came out super strong,” said OT senior co-captain Lizzy Chu. “They were hitting at us and putting balls in the court everywhere. Our defense was trying to pick up as much as possible. Some of us were too nervous - it’s counties, it’s a big thing. Once we got our composure together we started to pick it up.”

The Golden Knights grabbed a 10-3 lead in the second set after sophomore Nina Trent and junior Camryn Monfried blasted back-to-back kills. Then the Knights’ defense got into it as the offense seemed to excite the team into playing tough defense.

“Defense is what wins games and we practice a lot of that,” said Chu. “The blocking was amazing. We really stepped it up today and played our hearts out. We didn’t want this to be the end.”

“We owe it all to our defense,” said Trouilloud, “because we couldn’t get those things that we do - the great passes and sets - without them. Everyone encouraging each other is what makes us a good team.”

Junior setter Kelly Chen went to the service line with her team ahead, 20-14, and reeled off four straight winners to bring the Knights to set point. The Highlanders won a point but Fasano smacked a kill and with the 25-11 victory the match was tied at one set apiece.

The final set was close early on. With the score 7-5 Fasano began serving and a two-point lead turned into a 10-point lead.

“Gianna is very consistent and served really effectively today,” said Landeck. “We were in a good rotation and she kept the run going, which was important for us to keep the momentum.”

“In practice Landeck literally makes us serve for 20 minutes,” said Fasano, who had six service aces in the match. “Serving is such a key for this team.  We have a great serving team.  Lizzy (Chu) and Kelly (Chen) serve full. Camryn (Monfried) has a great topspin. Having such a great serving team wants me to serve a little harder. We have such a tough serving team - that’s what keeps us going.”

The Golden Knights ended the match with a 10-2 run to close it out. Trouilloud finished with a match-high 11 kills and one block. Fasano, Monfried and Trent each had eight kills. Senior Jordan Madison led the Highlanders with seven kills.

“There are always a lot of options even if we are a little out of system,” Trouilloud said of the Knights’ balanced scoring. “We can always trust whoever is there to get a ball up and put it away. We have so many options and we can go to any of them.”

“We’re not relying heavily on one person,” added Landeck. “It’s offense by committee. The setters, Kelly (Chen) and Chrissy [Chu], did a good job today, finding the hot hitters at different times and putting the ball where they needed to put it.”

The Golden Knights move on in the tournament where they will face Ramapo Tuesday night at 5 p.m. in the Elite Eight.