KINNELON _ Claire Mullaney, one of Kinnelon's senior outside hitters, believes there's a such thing as being overly focused.
Mullaney feels that was the case when the Colts suffered a loss to Morristown in a Morris County Tournament quarterfinal three weeks ago.
"We were too serious and didn't play as well as we could have," Mullaney said. "I think we could have beaten them but we needed to have some fun. Part of having fun is playing as a team and trusting your teammates. When you can't get to a ball, you have to know someone else can."
Since then, the Colts have relaxed more and taken six of their last seven matches, including a Public Group I second-round encounter against 12th-seeded Ridgefield on Friday, Nov. 7.
Kinnelon, buoyed by Isabella Tighe's 11 kills and Mullaney's 10, defeated Ridgefield, 25-7, 25-21. Domonique Wirsing helped the Colts (21-4) cruise in the opening game, running off 11 consecutive service points to gain a 13-2 lead.
Coach Stephanie Finke agreed with Mullaney's assessment of the Morristown match and said her squad learned from that setback.
"Against Morristown, we were tense and nervous," Finke said. "Everyone was afraid to make a mistake. We weren't attacking the net and the ball. The girls realized none of that was helpful. They had to loosen up and be in control."
Versus Ridgefield, the Colts were solid and consistent, especially in the first game. Wirsing, a senior middle blocker, began serving with Kinnelon up, 2-1. She reeled off 11 service points, three of them aces. The 5-foot-10 Mullaney had four kills during that span.
Seeing Wirsing succeed at service pleased Finke. At times, Wirsing has a tendency to hit long.
"Domonique is very coachable," Finke said. "She takes it all to heart. If she goes through her routine, she puts the ball in play. Domonique has a strong serve and doesn't fold under pressure."
By establishing a substantial advantage, fifth-seeded Kinnelon (21-4) proved it has the ability to be totally in command. For the remainder of the first set, Ridgefield, plagued by errors, was held to three more points.
"There were flashes of greatness in that run," Finke said. "The girls came together on the court and didn't give up easy points. We limited our mistakes. The whole match was very clean."
The second game was much tighter. The Colts led by as many as seven points in the second game but Ridgefield battled back. A pair of rare back-to-back miscues by Kinnelon - an errant kill attempt and a ball into the net - brought the visitors within three, 24-21. Tighe, a senior outside hitter, sealed the win with a kill.
"We've been more lighthearted lately," Mullaney said. "If we mess up, we get right out of that funk. We don't get down. We stay positive."
Following the Morristown match, the Colts, who will make the trip to fourth-seeded Becton for its next state match on Tuesday, Nov. 11, ironed out some problems.
"That was a rough loss," Mullaney said. "If we made mistakes, we kept thinking about them. When that happens, it snowballs. If one person became negative, it caused all of us to be out of it."
Shortly after, Passaic Valley, the Passaic County Tournament visited. Kinnelon, triumphant in 13 of its last 15 matches, prevailed, 25-22, 25-23.
"That was a major confidence booster," Mullaney said. "We can make a run in the states."
In addition to her double-digit kills, Tighe had six digs. Mullaney ended with six digs and two aces. Wirsing had four aces among her 15 service points. Sophomore setter Taylor Rosenberg contributed 18 assists. Kristin Akin, a senior setter, had seven assists, seven kills and seven digs.
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