The Rowan volleyball team punched their ticket to their second-straight New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) championship game on Thursday, Nov. 3. After dropping the first set, Rowan took three straight from Montclair State University and will host the title match on Saturday.
The Red Hawks started off the match with a 4-1 rally and did not look back. Although the Profs were able to hang around, Montclair used a multitude of runs, including a 7-0 run in the middle of the set which allowed them to grab it 25-21.
“We tend to do this thing where we test the waters a little bit, and see what the team throws at us,” Head Coach Deana Jespersen said. “Then we reset and restart.”
The Profs did just that, as Rowan started on a 5-0 run in the second set and were able to use the momentum to dominate the second set 25-12. All of the Profs’ big hitters showed up, getting support from the outsides and the middles as well.
Courtney Rhoden, Jena Kaul, Sydni Greenwood and Isabel Kirchner each contributed with kills in the second set, including two huge ones from Greenwood to close out the set.
All of the pieces began to fit for Rowan, as it was a combination of blocking, serving, defense and kills that allowed the Profs to take the third set. At the end of the set, Rowan had amassed 34 kills, seven service aces, 51 digs and 14 blocks in total to take a 25-20 victory and a 2-1 lead.
Fifth-year outside hitter Natalie Ogden referenced Greenwood, Kirchner and Rhoden in regard to the team’s blocking in the match.
“They were great, it was crazy,” Ogden said. “They are so huge, we’re not always the best blocking team, but we have some really great blockers and I think it really showed tonight and it really helped us win the game.”
Once the Profs had the 2-1 lead, they knew that they would be heading back to the finals once again. Ogden described how Rowan adjusted and played their style of volleyball.
“We just started playing our game,” Ogden said. “I think we really balled out those last three sets, we didn’t let any ball hit the floor, were going at them and playing our best game.”
Ogden and freshman Jena Kaul were key arms for the Profs, as the two combined for nearly half of the team’s kills.
“Jena [Kaul] was certainly hungry coming into the match, I could see it in her, and obviously I think she has learned a lot from Natalie [Ogden], and she has seen what Nat has done,” Coach Jespersen said. “So it was cool to see both of them vibing off of each other out there, they both had huge nights. I was super proud of them, a senior and a freshman.”
In the fourth set, the Profs stuck to their game and were able to close out the match with a 25-20 win. However, the Red Hawks didn’t go down without a fight, as they started to chip away at a Profs 23-13 lead, making it 24-19. This is where Coach Jespersen called a timeout to try and end the Montclair State scoring streak.
“For a while there we had such a big lead and they were chipping away,” Coach Jespersen said. “I was like ‘we haven’t won yet’ if you’re already celebrating in your mind, you give a team a chance to take advantage of you and come back. So we just talked about having a finishing mentality, you have to finish and then you can celebrate.”
Just two points later, Rowan sealed the deal when Ogden hammered it home for the Profs and sent them to the title match.
“I just wanted to finish the game, [I was like] we need to make it to the finals,” Ogden said. “I knew the ball was coming to me and I just had to put it down, so I just tried to give it my all.”
Ogden finished with 11 kills, two service aces and 18 digs, while Kaul added 11 digs to lead the Profs. Kirchner and Rhoden each had eight blocks assisted and Kirchner added nine kills, while Greenwood chipped in with eight. Senior libero Simone Sparano led the way defensively with 21 digs, while setter Brooke Adams grabbed 38 assists.
Rowan will take on Kean University at 2 p.m. inside Esby gymnasium on Saturday, Nov. 5, as they try to win back-to-back titles for the first time in program history.
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