by Andrew Garda

The 9-seed Montclair High School boys volleyball run in the Essex County Tournament ended with a loss to 8-seed Millburn in the first round on Friday in straight sets. The Mounties were coming off a win over 16-seed Orange in the preliminary round, when they beat their opponent 25-15 in both sets, but though they battled hard, they couldn’t overcome a tough Millers team.

In some ways, the Mounties started off in the hole, as several starters were not available to play on Friday. That meant Mountie coach Pam Reilly had to move some junior varsity players up into starting positions despite their inexperience playing at the varsity level, much less in a tournament.

Even with that, Reilly felt the team stepped up and played well.

“We represented well considering our lineup was fractured,” she said after the loss. “They played fantastically… and responded to a change in system and personnel.”

Two big issues continue to loom over the team. First, unforced errors, which led to a late Millburn run in the second set. The second was communication, though that has improved greatly over the course of the season.

When it comes to communication, Reilly says there’s no getting around it: If you can’t communicate clearly, you aren’t going to be successful as a team.

“This is a sport you have to communicate in. And communication includes ... what’s going on on the other side of the court, how many blockers they have out. Where the setter is, that’s very important. If there is a setter in the front row, they become an offensive threat and you have to make sure you let [your teammates] know.”

The team has done a much better job of doing all that, and even adjusted between the two sets on Friday. The first set saw a lot of near collisions when two players went to the ball but neither called out for it. That happened a lot less often during the second set, and when there were two players in the same area, one of them was calling off the other player.

When you aren’t doing that, you’ll get unforced errors, and that’s something that continues to haunt this team late in sets.

That’s not to say the Mounties haven’t improved. Last time they met Millburn, they had 20 unforced errors in the first set alone. This time, there were far fewer mistakes.

“Fewer” can still be “too many,” though, and again the errors caught up with them late in the second set.

The Mounties started things off in good shape, with a 6-2 lead early in the set. Millburn battled back, but MHS kept its lead as the two teams traded points for some time. The Millers slowly began to chip away at the lead, catching up and tying the set at 11-11.

Shortly after trading points again, the two squads were tied at 15 apiece. That’s when MHS’ errors began to rear their ugly heads. The Mounties would give up a point or two, sideout, and then immediately give the ball back with a serve into the net or a missed hit.

The Mounties pulled to within one point several times, but giving up two or three points for every one they scored allowed Millburn to build a 19-17 lead and those two points were everything at the end of the set, which they lost by a score of 25-22.

Reilly said she never doubted they could win. Not in the first meeting between the teams, not at any point during Friday’s loss and not after it.

It’s the little things, she says. If they can fix those and believe in themselves, she feels this team can be very good.

With just a few games left on the schedule, that would help them end it on a positive note.