It was a thriller inside Esbjornson “Esby” Gymnasium of Glassboro on Tuesday, Sept. 20, as the match between Rowan volleyball and Stockton University went down to the wire.
It took five sets, but the Profs pulled off the 3-2 victory and remained undefeated at home to start the season. The gym was packed, fans were roaring and the rivalry between New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) foes did not disappoint. Freshman outside hitter Jena Kaul describes the environment during the game.
“It was insane, as soon as I went in I was like ‘I have to finish, I have to play for my team and do this for my team,’ it was so intense,” Kaul said. “The adrenaline was crazy.”
As the game started, the teams were exchanging points with each squad going on their respective runs. It was the usual duo for the Profs that helped propel the first set scoring, with fifth-year outside hitter Natalie Ogden racking up five kills and sophomore setter Brooke Adams tallying 13 assists.
Other pivotal performances in the first set came from Kaul, senior Jackie Camponelli, and sophomore Sydni Greenwood. The Profs were eventually able to grab the first set by a score of 25-21 after a long rally and a combined block from Adams and senior Courtney Rhoden.
The second set was equally as matched as the first, with the Profs and Ospreys each going on scoring runs to four points each before the other team was able to counter. As the game began to lengthen, Stockton was adjusting to the usual attack of Ogden and other outside hitters, as the Ospreys started to block multiple kill attempts.
“Nat [Ogden] started to get blocked a lot, they were zoning in on her, they were committing to her, meaning they were early moving in front of her and committing to her,” Head Coach Deana Jespersen said. “So that means that other people, if they’re not strong and we’re feeding them the ball, then they’re not getting their points, then they’ve won because they’ve shut down our big hitter. We have so many big hitters, and they’re confident in what they’re doing this year.”
Coach Jespersen continued to reflect on how it was a team effort in the win as other big hitters stepped up for the Profs, including Rhoden, Greenwood, Kaul, and sophomore Isabel Kirchner.
“We had players at all different points during the match stepping up,” Coach Jespersen said. “Courtney [Rhoden] was huge tonight, I thought Isa [Isabel Kirchner] was huge tonight, so it was kind of cool to see other people stepping into those roles.”
Greenwood finished the match with seven kills, Rhoden exploded for ten, while Kaul and Kirchner each added nine. Leading the way was Ogden as she ended her night with 19 kills on 68 attempts.
Nearing the end of the second set Stockton had a 23-22 lead, but the Profs scored three straight points to finish off the set 25-23.
Down two sets to none, the Ospreys battled and showed resilience, taking the next two sets from the Profs. The third set was the closest of the night, but Stockton ended strong and took set three 27-25. It was now a one-set lead for the Profs, having a chance to win it in the fourth, but things started to spiral for Rowan where they did not play their usual brand of volleyball.
“I think at one point we didn’t [keep our composure] a little bit. I think in the fourth set I feel like we were too loose. I don’t feel like they had that hunger that they needed to have in order to win a game like this,” Coach Jespersen said. “And sometimes that happens when you win two sets early, not that you expect to win but you definitely feel like a little bit of the pressure is off.”
The Ospreys played arguably their best set of the game, bolstered by a late scoring run which allowed them to grab the fourth set 25-21.
It would now come down to the fifth and final set to see who would capture the nail-biting match.
With the momentum from winning two sets in a row on their side, Stockton took a lead in the final set 6-1. The Profs remained strong and played to their strengths to secure the victory.
All but one kill in the final set was hammered home by Kaul and Ogden which combined with key serving from sophomore Maya Iovacchini sealed the deal for the Profs. Kaul describes her simple goal down the stretch in order to score.
“Put the ball away. Just put that ball away, that’s it,” Kaul said.
She did just that, with a huge back row kill she pulled the Profs within one, 7-6 in the final set.
With the game tied 8-8, Iovacchini and Kaul stepped up which Coach Jespersen pinpoints as pivotal factors in the game.
“I thought that was awesome, I mean that’s tough to be a freshman stepping up in that role when you’ve got a heavy upperclassmen presence on that court. I think she [Kaul] was pushing… she was pushing her and Maya [Iovacchini],” Coach Jespersen said. “Maya [Iovacchini] got behind that line serving wise, you can’t ignore how crucial her serving was, and how aggressive Maya [Iovacchini] was when she was serving, those two things are game changers right there.”
Kaul had a monster slam which iced the game for the Profs and with the energy through the roof, Rowan completed the comeback to win the set 15-8 and the game 3-2. The Profs now move to 11-1 on the season and 5-0 in Glassboro.
Kaul felt the importance of the game and understood what it meant to win at home.
“This is our house, we’re not going to let them come in here and take sets off of us and make us lose,” Kaul said. “This is our house and we had to protect our house tonight.”
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