by Andrew Garda

The Montclair High School boys volleyball team (6-2, 5-1 SEC) had been cruising this season, but has lost two of its last three games, knocking them off course, at least briefly.

After five straight wins to open, during which they dropped only one set, in the opener against West Orange, the team dropped two straight games before beating West Orange again on Monday.

First, they stumbled in a 2-1 loss to a tough East Orange squad (6-2, 4-1 SEC) on Monday, May 10. Then they were knocked out of the Essex County Tournament on Thursday, May 13, in a 2-0 loss to No. 10 seed Newark Tech (10-3, 5-1 SEC). This past Monday they won 2-0 at West Orange.

Head coach Pam Reilly was especially frustrated by the Newak Tech loss, as she felt the No. 7-seeded Mounties allowed themselves to get rattled and let a win get away.

“We do some things well,” Reilly said after last Thursday’s game. “We did some things absolutely well, but when the pressure gets up, that’s when you start to lose composure.”

While they played well in them, the easier wins leading up to the Mounties’ two losses definitely didn’t help battle-test the team, something Reilly felt showed in the East Orange and Newark Tech games.

“[They] were intense for a while, but they don’t know how to maintain that intensity, no matter what,” the coach said. “They let the pressure of being behind or [the other team] scoring a couple of points [get to them]. Instead of ‘All right. Get the ball back. Just get the ball back.’ That’s all. Just get it real simple. Just get it.”

The game between Montclair and Newark Tech was very tight during the first set, with the lead seesawing back and forth for much of it. 

The Mounties would take a one- or two-point lead, then give the serve up to the Terriers, who would rip off three or four points of their own. 

Slowly but surely, the Terriers began to pull away from MHS, and the Mounties lost the first set 25-23.

Newark Tech quickly picked up where it left off in the second set, jumping out to an early lead. Montclair had a few rallies but could never hold serve long enough to gain the momentum it needed to come back, losing the set 25-15 and the match in straight sets, 2-0.

Reilly said the team has to learn how to keep its composure, because teams are going to go on runs and steal points.

“They’re going to get their points. That’s the thing, I’m like, do you think … no one is ever going to score?” she said. “What the hell are you so petrified about? Because they scored a point. OK. They scored a point because you weren’t doing something that you were supposed to do. You weren’t where you were supposed to be. Then all you have to do is make an adjustment, and you’ll probably be able to make the play the next time.”

Reilly said the Mounties just didn’t make those adjustments, something she puts the responsibility for on herself.

“I’m going to take the heat for that one, but we’re going to make adjustments going forward,” she said. “Because it’s real simple. Volleyball is a game of angles. I see where you’re supposed to be and because you were not, that’s where the ball went, but you weren’t there. So I pointed it out to you. It should never happen again.”

Montclair is hoping to get back to its winning ways.

To do that, they need senior Ke’maree Johnson to continue to step up. Johnson leads the team with 67 kills and is a mainstay for the Mounties on offense, though his 31 digs point to his ability on defense as well. 

Seniors James Piorkowski and Elliot Lasiter lead the team with 49 and 46 digs respectively, and Piorkowski has been Montclair’s most dangerous server, with 42 service points and 19 aces, while also adding 129 assists. Junior Ty Hillman has the second-most service points with 38, while senior Rafael Dagnino has 34. 

MHS got some momentum back with the 2-0 win over West Orange on Monday, May 17. Now they have one more scheduled game on the road against Science Park on May 20, before the state tournament. On Tuesday, May 18, MHS found out it will be the No. 24 seed in the NJSIAA North 1 tournament and face No. 9 seed Randolph on the road in the first round.