High schools girls volleyball: Bogota first

from N.J. to win Garden State Challenge

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Recod

MAHWAH – Finally, a New Jersey girls volleyball team defended its home turf and won the prestigious Garden State Challenge.

Bogota won the fifth annual GSC by defeating a New York power, Ward Melville, which in the semifinals had defeated host Immaculate Heart, New Jersey’s reigning Tournament of Champions titlist.

Bogota won the Gold Division title in the two-day, 20-team event that featured teams as far away as Virginia with a 25-14, 22-25, 25-15 win on Sunday at Ramapo College’s Bradley Center.

“I knew we could win state titles,” said Brad DiRupo, whose Bucs are the defending state Group 1 champion, “but I didn’t know if we could win a tournament like this.”

Bogota, ranked No. 2 in The Record Top 15 behind Immaculate Heart, won because its three stars and six complementary players stayed focused over two days and 22 sets, including 12 sets Sunday.

The Bucs went 8-0 in their Saturday pool play, then 8-0 in the Tier 1 pool play, including wins over Ward Melville, 25-23 and 25-22, to earn the No. 1 seed for the four-team Gold Division. They won their semifinal over St. Mary’s of Lancaster, N.Y., 25-15, 16-25, 25-22.

“This year, more than ever, we came together as a team at the end,” said senior setter Rebecca Kelemen, whose Bucs never had reached the title match. “And we realized what was at stake for us.”

“We played a team that beat IHA, and IHA had beaten us [twice this season], and we knew we had to put our all into it, because we want to end up on top and we want to end up first in the state at the end of the year.”

Immaculate Heart was denied an All-Bergen final after losing to Ward Melville, 25-23, 20-25, 25-23. The Blue Eagles played well, but not well enough to beat the school from Long Island.

“Of course it was disappointing,” said IHA co-coach Maria Nolan, whose Blue Eagles likely will earn the No. 1 spot at Wednesday’s Bergen County tournament seeding meeting. “We were hoping to make it through and could play Bogota again. It was our tournament, and we were looking to do that. There’s much more to the season and we’ll focus on that.”

Kelemen’s serve disrupted Ward Melville’s offense in the final. Her three-quarter rotation slider was tough to pass. In the first set, Kelemen served 14 consecutive points to turn the Bucs’ 12-9 deficit into a 23-12 lead.

“Serving is the key to Bogota volleyball, along with defense, and we serve – a lot – in practice,” Kelemen said.

Kelemen also had 38 assists, most of them to junior hitter Carly O’Sullivan, The Record’s 2011 Volleyball Player of the Year, and senior hitter Julia Topor. O’Sullivan’s ability to hit to multiple spots helped her total 24 kills, and Topor’s power earned her 16 kills.

Meanwhile, every Buc played defense. Junior libero Jen Ramirez had 22 digs and O’Sullivan added 16.

“I thought we asserted ourselves very well,” DiRupo said. “At different times in the tournament, different kids stepped up, and that’s what a team is all about and what you need to do.

“You always come here and you want to compete, and you want to make it a positive experience. But you never know if you’re good enough to win this, because the teams on the trophy are unbelievable. And now we can say we did it.”

Bogota is the only team from New Jersey that can say it.

Email: mattura@northjersey.com