Tenafly earns a season split with Bergenfield

BERGENFIELD – Tenafly’s girls volleyball team avenged a three-set loss to Bergenfield from back on September 26 with a 2-0 (26-24, 25-19) victory over the Bears in Bergenfield on Monday afternoon.

 “We weren’t as focused as we should have been but we definitely got it done,” said Tenafly senior middle hitter Sophia Tapia. “We changed things up - we went to Rover - and I think it’s working out way better. I think we just have to learn to close out the points faster and keep the energy throughout. But this team is really good.”

The Lady Tigers made the change after the loss to Bergenfield and it has made a huge difference in their play.

“They beat us the first time and that made it game-changing for us,” Tapia said. “It made us wake up and do everything different about how our program was before.”

There were six ties and six lead changes in the first set. Tenafly grabbed a 9-6 lead but Bears senior libero Isabella Melendez tallied five straight service winners to give Bergenfield an 11-9 lead. The Tigers took a 22-17 lead late in the set but the Bears went on a 5-0 run thanks to three attack errors and a communication lapse by Tenafly and a solid hit by Bears junior middle blocker Haley Hernandez  to tie the set 22-all.

“They are such an improved team and they beat us the first time,” said Tigers coach Jeff Koehler. “Coming in, our girls were so into it, they were focused. I just think it's a lack of focus sometimes and where to be in position.”

Tapia regained the lead for Tenafly, 23-22, with a kill but another attack error allowed the Bears to tie the set again. Tapia earned Tenafly a set point with another blast but an attack error tied the set one last time.

Finally, Tapia ended the first set in victory for the Tigers with back-to-back thunderous kills.

“As a coach,” said Koehler, “very few times you have a special player like this, where if you get the set it’s going to be 90-95 percent you get the point, even against the great teams. That’s how great she is. We have always had really good hitters but what makes her special is that in the past there were always two hitters. We don’t have anybody to [consistently] put the ball down. Those other girls had state championships but they also had three or four hitters. Sophia is the No. 1 hitter in the front and the back.”

During the first set Melendez reached a milestone by scooping dig No. 600.

“I don’t think about numbers,” she said. “I just think I can get this ball and if I don’t get it I get the next one. It’s all about mindset and pushing myself to do it. To be honest I wouldn’t have been able to do it without coach [Linda Chu]. She is always encouraging me to move my body, move my feet. It was putting in the work that got me to where I am today. One milestone is done but now I have to think about my team and working for my team to get a milestone. Bergenfield girls volleyball doesn’t have a banner yet  -  like league, county [championship] or anything like that. Even though the season is almost done I never give up on the fact that we can somehow get some recognition for our town.”

Bergenfield led through much of the second set but a kill by Tapia tied the game 15-15 and she followed with a block to give Tenafly the lead. After senior outside hitter Celine DeLa Rosa smacked a kill to tie the game 16-all Tapia gave Tenafly the lead for good with a kill and three straight blocks.

“When the block is set up with my pin hitter,” Tapia said, “it’s so much easier for me to close and get that. If the set is closer to the net on the other side it’s easier for me to read and reach my hands up and put it down.”

“She’s up there as the all-time block leader in Tenafly and this year in the state,” Koehler added. “Last year she was third in the state in blocks.”

Tapia finished with 17 kills and 6 blocks in the match.

“Back row for me was a pretty good day,” she said. “Front row could have been better but our setter connection was really good today. Liv (junior setter Olivia Lai, who finished with 16 assists) has been working her butt off. It’s her first year setting and I’m so proud of her. It’s a good quick hitter-setter connection for me.”

Throughout the match there were long rallies and spectacular defense on both sides. Senior defensive specialist Kayla Riley led the Tigers with 12 digs.

“I believe this is the best defensive team I have been on in my four years,” Melendez said. “Of course there are games where defense is our weak spot but I feel that overall defense is one of our strong suits. I’m super grateful that I got 600 digs but the work is not done. I feel as a team we can continue to do more.”

“We’re a really good team but our record probably doesn’t show it sometimes,” said Chu. “We just fall a little bit short in points in tight situations but the team is right there.” 

Bergenfield is a team on the rise. They play hard and got contributions from plenty of underclassmen, including juniors Lucie Ortiz (setter) and Hernandez and sophomores Abigail Inglis (middle blocker), Geraldine Miano (outside hitter) and Samantha Pineda (defensive specialist), all of whom scored at least one point in the match.

“We have some transition players,” said Chu. “We have a lot of sophomores. You want them to be up to speed. The team has worked very hard. They’re always willing to put the work in. We have had moments. We beat Tenafly and that was a huge win for us. But that one big win is not enough. We’ve had losses that we shouldn’t have. It’s frustrating for the girls because they know they can but sometimes it doesn’t go our way. I give them a lot of credit - they work hard and they try. That’s all you can ask for.”

“One thing that is encouraging for us is being able to move our game to the next level,” Melendez said. “A couple of us girls have been together for a couple of years and coach Chu really pushes the new girls to get up to our speed because she sees the potential they have and we encourage them on the court.”

With the win Tenafly split the season series and improved to 7-8-1. Bergenfield fell to 7-12.

“That libero (Melendez) is phenomenal - I really like her,” said Koehler. “She kept a lot in. When Sophia (Tapia) hits they’re hard to get up and she made it look easy. And Celine De La Rosa is a really good hitter but we didn’t give a lot of ‘frees’ so she didn’t get a lot of hits. But we also know if you get her going she could single-handedly take charge and win the game kind of like the way she did last time.”

“Linda (Chu) brought their program up so much,” Tapia said. “She’s an amazing coach. I used to play for her in Pinnacle. Their program came from low tier to pretty high up there. We underestimated the team a little bit - they’re really good - so we can’t be doing that.”