By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
It’s almost the least known fact in Nutley these days, but it shouldn’t.
People should know that the Nutley High School girls’ volleyball team is one of the best in Essex County and boasts of a 9-1 record.
In fact, the Maroon Raiders are doing so well that they recently received the No. 2 seed overall – to perennial state powerhouse Livingston – for the Essex County Tournament. The Maroon Raiders’ lone loss this season has been to Livingston.
Nutley head coach Angela Bania has been very pleased with the way her team has performed.
“I’m very impressed,” Bania said before her team defeated neighboring rival Bloomfield in straight games last week. “Right now, I’m more worried about the division (the SEC American Division), because we can win or lose to anyone in the division. We have the potential to do so much. I don’t think the girls are seeing their way to their full potential. But they’re doing so well.”
While Bania is happy that the Maroon Raiders have nine wins in 10 matches, she’s shooting for the stars.
“I think they can be even better,” Bania said. “I think they can do so much more. They sometimes get a little lazy in games and play too cautiously. The kill percentage needs to go up. But it’s nice to be the No. 2 seed. I’m not surprised with that. We should be second. But it’s nice to see we’re finally getting respect.”
Bania knows that the Maroon Raiders are far better than when she started coaching at Nutley seven years ago.
“We were not competitive at all back then,” Bania said. “So we’ve definitely come a long way.”
Bania utilizes a full roster of nine players every match.
“Everyone plays and I like that,” Bania said. “I don’t like to keep big groups and then you have girls that don’t play. We use everyone. They all get in.”
Sophomore Molly Demgard is one of the team’s outside hitters.
“She’s doing excellently,” Bania said. “She’s gotten stronger and she’s swinging her wrist a lot more. I like the way she’s come along.”
Junior Marissa Chasmar is another outside hitter.
“She’s a good leader and our captain,” Bania said. “It’s her third year with the varsity and she’s a really smart player with the ball. She is smart with her placing of the ball.” Senior Sarah Montes is one of the team’s middle hitters.
“We just need Sarah to be a little more aggressive,” Bania said.
Junior Kayla Dowling is a newcomer, a transfer from Indian Hills.
“It was a tough transition for Kayla to fit in, but she’s done quite well and gets along with everyone,” Bania said. “She can reach real high and has a quick swing.”
The opposite hitter is junior Kelly Nichirco.
“She’s one of the best allaround players I’ve ever had,” Bania said of Nichirco. “She can play defense, the front line, everything. We move her around as well.”
The setter is senior Emilie Pulecio, who just became a setter this season.
“She came to me and told me she could be a setter,” Bania said. “I said, `OK, no problem,’ and there hasn’t been a problem. She’s done a great job.”
The libero is a thankless position, with not a lot of glory, but takes a lot of guts to play there. It’s a position where the player has to concentrate strictly on defense – and nothing else. Junior Morgan Gualtieri is the Maroon Raiders’ libero.
“She’s doing it for the first time and she’s been very tough,” Bania said. “She does get a little hard on herself, but she’s been working very hard.”
Senior Alexandra Salvador is a top substitute.
“She can play the back, the front, anywhere that I need her, because she can play anywhere,” Bania said.
Junior Courtney Conte is a setter.
“It’s good to have Courtney to come off the bench, because she’s not afraid of anything,” Bania said.
Sophomore Jennifer Lohf has also been a key contributor.
“She’s an all-around player, especially setting,” Bania said. “I’m confident that she’s able to do what’s needed of her.”
Needless to say, Bania is excited about her team’s performance thus far.
“I’m pretty happy,” Bania said. “Sometimes, I do get pretty strict when they start to not do well, but they’ve shown the ability to bounce back and get back on track.”
The Maroon Raiders will face West Essex in the quarterfinals of the Essex County Tournament this week.
“I think we’re all pretty excited about it,” Bania said.
Now, if we can just get the rest of Nutley to get pumped up as well.