Cresskill tops New Milford for ninth straight win

CRESSKILL – Cresskill’s volleyball team improved to 9-1 with a superb defensive effort to take down New Milford, 2-0 (25-16, 25-13), on Tuesday afternoon.

“Coming in we knew that they played good defense,” said senior middle hitter Erin Fahy. “We knew that they weren’t strong at hitting but their tips were really good and we’ve struggled a little bit on hitting the tip. But I think today was a good test and we showed what our defense could be. Today was our best defensive game of the season.”

“Today was the best defense that we’ve ever played,” added coach Laura Germano. “We definitely did not take them lightly at all. We watched film on them a lot and knew exactly what they were going to do. We’ve been having a hard time with the tip game and we knew they were going to tip and they did. But I think we locked that down today. Overall I think we played really well.”

Cresskill has reeled off nine straight victories after an opening day loss to Leonia. 

“Coming off our first game - it was horrible - we did so badly,” Germano said. “It was like we had never played before. And then it was like, ‘Wait a second, who are we? What are we doing?’ We regrouped and got everything together and figured it out. We’ve kind of built off that and gotten better each game.”

In Tuesday afternoon’s  first set the teams exchanged leads back and forth until senior outside hitter Tiko Tvauri and senior middle hitter Sophia Doto hammered back-to-back kills to grab a 6-4 lead for Cresskill.
New Milford kept the Cougars lead to within four points with several long rallies until Fahy smacked her fifth kill of the set to give Cresskill a 20-15 lead. After an errant serve gave the Knights a side out three straight attack errors boosted the Cougar lead to 23-16.

Cresskill senior outside hitter Katherine Makris brought the Cougars to a set point by hammering a kill and sophomore libero Irene Oh clinched the opening frame with a well-placed kill to an open area on New Milford’s side of the net.

“Coming off of last year we wanted to make sure that we could keep the record up,” Fahy said. “Last year the team made it to the state finals. We do have a lot of new players here but this year we want to focus on getting back to where we were last year, and even improving where we ended up, because we did lose to Bogota [in the state final]. We’re looking to push past that and we’re also looking to push past the first round of counties because we weren’t able to do that last year. I think it’s just improving - not trying to hold onto last year’s team, because that team is gone -  but building on our new team and trying to stay as good as we played today.”

Cresskill grabbed an early 4-point lead in the second set but the Knights fought back to tie the game 6-all with back-to-back service aces by junior Natalya Polkowski. The game remained close until senior setter Joslyn Lewin tallied back-to-back service aces and Fahy blocked two consecutive shots, thrusting the Cougars to a 16-9 lead and prompting a New Milford timeout.

The Cougars went on a 9-4 run the rest of the way and Doto ended the match with a thunderous kill.

“It’s so exciting,” Doto said. “I feel like everyone doubted us this year and to come out this strong makes us really happy. I feel like the team bond is really good. We’re going to keep going strong and try to go to the second round of the counties.”

Germano said that the team lost a lot of key players from last year’s team, “but the girls that are here now stepped up and filled in perfectly. There were big shoes to fill but they’ve done a good job.”

“We had some good players that we lost but that hasn’t stopped us,” added Doto. “People have stepped up and we’ve found ourselves this year.”

Although the Cougars feature plenty of seniors there are young players that also contribute to the success of the team.
“We were in the underclassmen’s shoes at one point,” said Doto, “so I feel like as a senior we have to build them up. They can’t be scared, we have to keep them going and I think they’re doing a very good job.”

“When I see someone younger who is down I try to uplift them because it can really get in your head in this sport,” said Makris. “It’s all mental.  I’ve been there before and I know what they’re feeling. Having people uplift you on the court, especially the older people  who have been through it before is really special for the younger one.”

As the season unfolds the Cresskill players are figuring out their roles.

“We want to give our all to our teammates and we want the same thing back because it’s all an equal effort,” Fahy said. “I can hit middle but I cannot set the ball. So it’s all team effort and we have to make sure we all show up every game and play hard.”

“I think the team is so much fun to be on,” Makris said. “We’re all friends. We all have our separate groups in school but when we’re on the court we’re all friends with each other, we all support each other and bring each other together. I’ve been with most of these people during middle school. Some of the younger players played during the summer and last spring and fall in clinics. We were playing with them and we got to know each other outside of volleyball and then came together on the court and became friends.”

Fahy finished with 5 kills, 3 blocks and a service ace. Doto chipped in with 5 kills, Makris had 3 kills, 5 digs and an ace. Lewin added 8 assists and 3 digs, while junior Caitlin McGee had 7 assists.
With the win the Cougars also improved to 5-0 in league play.

“Our first game against Leonia was a tough loss, but it was because we hadn’t found ourselves yet,” Doto said. “I feel like we’re a totally different team now. The younger people were scared in that game. We just weren’t ready - we hadn’t played with each other that much. I feel we’ve just progressed so much since then. Each game we keep getting better and better. Today was the best game we’ve had defense wise. I hope we continue to press.”

“I was excited for this year but I’m sad for it to end, especially since the seniors have become so close,” Makris said. “The last four years most of us have been on the same teams every year. We’re so lucky seeing each other, playing next to each other and our dynamic is very healthy.”