In the highly competitive Suburban One League (SOL) National Division volleyball league, there appears to be a new challenger on the block. This year's Neshaminy team is primed and ready to take a shot at perennial power Pennsbury.
Coming off a highly respectable 13-3 campaign, the Redskins possess that enviable blend of athleticism and team harmony. Jake Murray, senior middle hitter, feels that togetherness should be the real key.
"We've been playing together for a while. Mike Gulla, Chase Fullen, Ryan Jamison and myself have all been on the team since our freshmen year. We have a lot of team chemistry.'
Such veteran savvy and familiarity has led to some very realistic season goals. "I'm pretty sure that Neshaminy's volleyball team has never made it to states so that is our goal this year.'
The long trek down the Keystone Yellow Brick Road starts the very first week of the regular season. During this formative time, teams test their mettle, gain self-confidence, and establish a winning momentum. The Redskins accomplished all of these important elements in their league openers.
On March 25, coach Kevin Roode's warriors took on William Tennent, a team many preseason prognosticators saw as equal or even better than Neshaminy. Jake knew the Panthers would certainly provide a challenge.
"William Tennent is always a good squad. We just practiced like they were going to come out to beat us. We do not underestimate anyone.'
The Redskins more than met the challenge. They defeated Tennent in straight sets, winning by scores of 26-24, 25-14, 25-21. Ryan Jamison, ranked one of the top players in the state, paced Neshaminy, recording 11 kills and six aces. Mike Gulla was close behind with six kills. Setter Chase Fullen had 32 assists and three aces.
More important than individual statistics, Neshaminy got a solid jump start for the season. In Jake's estimation, "Prior to the game, we really worked on defense, making sure we kept the ball in play as much as possible. After the game, we were excited because one paper had them ranked number three and us tying for that spot. Winning showed that we were better than them that night. It was a confidence booster for us.'
The Redskins would need all that inner moxie as they took on Council Rock North two days later. Last year, the two teams tied for second place in the SOL National Division.
"We knew they had good hitters. They have one of the better middle hitters in the league so we focused on blocking, eliminating errors and keeping the ball in play.'
A good deal of the blocking assignment fell in Jake's capable hands. "I'm the middle hitter and our main goal actually is blocking. We try to have our middles block as many of the opponent's hits as possible.'
The strategy worked as Neshiminy won taking three sets to one for Council Rock. The scores were 25-23, 17-25, 25-18, 25-15. Jake saw the Redskins' hustle as a vital ingredient in their winning formula.
"The key was keeping our energy up the entire game. There was no let up. We kept hitting the ball and then went to the next play. We did everything right that we could that match.'
Ryan Jamison once again spearheaded the Neshaminy attack, recording 18 kills, three blocks, two aces and eight digs. Jake scored five kills and two aces as Neshaminy seized the top spot in the division. "The last time we played them (CR North), they beat us so it was a good feeling.'
Jake and his teammates realize two victories do not make an entire season. They still have return matches with the Rock and Tennent. Then, there are showdowns with Pennsbury, the team that has won six of the last seven division titles and went all the way to the PIAA state finals last year.
"We play them once at the very end of the season and sometime in the middle. They're good this year. They're good every year so those should be a very intense weeks of practice and preparation.'
Personally, Jake will relish every moment. Also a member of the varsity football team, Jake sustained a serious knee injury that somewhat realigned his athletic focus.
"As much as I'd love to play in college, I got hurt last year in football which set me back. I got tackled by a 300-pound dude and tore my MCL and PCL. So I'm probably going to stick to club volleyball.'
For now, however, Jake and his Neshaminy teammates have one goal, get to states.