The stage was set for Rowan volleyball on Tuesday, Oct. 25. It was their senior night, they were undefeated in conference play and needed one win to clinch the regular season conference championship. The only thing standing in their way was the Kean University Cougars.
Before the match, the Profs honored seniors Natalie Ogden, Brianna Newson, Simone Sparano, Jackie Camponelli, Courtney Rhoden, Dani Emrich and Julia Bowes.
The seniors and the rest of the Profs’ squad were not going to let the Cougars tarnish their 7-0 home record. It took four sets, but Rowan got the job done and beat Kean 3-1 in a tightly contested match to move to 21-4 on the year.
“It was awesome, I knew we were going to come in here and we were going to ball out,” Dani Emrich said. “We were going to play our game, it was so fun, it was just such a fun game to play.”
Although the Profs lost the first set 25-21, Rowan bounced back to win three in a row to solidify the victory.
“Our first set was not us, and what we did was, we kicked into our RUVB gear, and I had no doubt in my mind that this game was ours. We have worked our butts off all season, we have grinded and pushed ourselves to our limits,” Emrich said. “There was no question in anyone’s mind that we weren’t going to walk away with the next three sets.”
Brianna Newson added on to what the night meant to her, and how the Profs were able to counter in the following sets.
“[It has meant] everything. These girls have been my life, my sweat, my blood for four years now, and I don’t know where I would be without them. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere without them, this means the world,” Newson said. “The way we came back after that first set and brought it together and finished it, that was amazing.”
The teams were going point for point in the second set, but after Rowan went on a run up 17-14, they scored eight in a row to win the set 25-14 and even things up at one set a piece.
The Profs were propelled by strong serving, including Dani Emrich and Jackie Camponelli at the helm during Rowan’s second set run. The two combined for five service aces and allowed for Rowan to play to their strengths and exploit other teams.
Emrich detailed her mentality and the support she gets from her teammates.
“I just get behind that line and I want to make them feel like they’re getting suffocated by serves, I don’t want them to think for a second that they can pass it,” Emrich said. “I just know that I’m supported by my team, I know they have total confidence in me.”
Along with the strong serving, in the third set the Profs began to heat up with the seniors leading the charge.
Rowan started off the third set on a high note leading 4-1, and was able to go on a multitude of scoring runs extending to 19-5. Every Prof played to their strengths and the seniors shined on their special day.
“When I recruited that huge class of freshman at the time, the purpose of it was to change the program, it was by design and I wanted a competitive environment in the gym,” Head Coach Deana Jespersen said. “To see how they have loved each other and respected each other and trusted each other throughout those years is really cool. And tonight, play some of the best ball I’ve seen any of them play which was really really cool.”
The Profs were able to click on all aspects and took set three 25-16, needing one more set to seal the deal.
The big arms for Rowan also showed out, as the outside hitter duo of Newson and Ogden had eight and nine kills respectively going into the fourth set, which is where they overpowered the Cougars.
The final set had the feel of the first, with the teams going point for point. But after electric smashes from Rowan, there was no stopping the Profs.
“We started to run the ball faster, and when we run that ball faster you’re giving someone like Natalie [Ogden] and Bri [Brianna Newson] an one-on-one situation and they’re going to crush that ball,” Coach Jespersen said. “Same thing with Courtney [Rhoden], trying to get her away from that middle blocker a little bit outside of it, in a one-on-one situation she’s going to win.”
Newson also reflected on how she was able to have a successful night, even while battling through an injury from last season.
“I think for days like this, or really any day, we put so much focus on doing it for each other, and all I wanted to do tonight was win for the other seniors,” Newson said. “I knew since the moment I got hurt I had to work to get to where I was and I’ve done it for them, we did it together, and that’s why we could do it today.”
There proved to be too many weapons on the Profs for the Cougars to handle as they outplayed Kean to take the fourth set 25-18. Ogden posted another double-double with 13 kills and 12 digs, while Newson led the way with 14 kills and Rhoden had five. Sparano led the Profs with 18 digs, while Camponelli had four service aces and sophomore setter Brooke Adams had 34 assists.
With the Profs going 8-0 in the conference, they clinched the regular season New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) title for the second year in a row. It also means the Profs will have home court advantage throughout the tournament.
“This is our home, we defend here, we have put teams away over and over and over again here,” Emrich said. “It is such an honor to be surrounded by our fans for these next few games during playoffs. It’s going to be electric, I’m so excited.”
Even though the Profs sit in first place, there is more work to be done as they look to go back-to-back as conference champions and make the NCAA tournament.
“The banner was about home-court advantage, that is what we were playing for. They still have a lot of work to do, they still have to get to the NCAA tournament, we still have to win the conference,” Coach Jespersen said. “At the end of the day winning a championship is what’s going to get you to the dance.”
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