RANDOLPH _ The Randolph volleyball team's typical method of winning is unorthodox but it works.
Since the beginning of the season, the Rams have thrived and fought after falling behind. Whether it be a set or a substantial deficit, they manage to survive as they did in a Morris County Tournament semifinal against fifth-seeded Kinnelon, coming away with a 25-21, 26-28, 25-21 win on Saturday, Oct 22.
Randolph escapes tense situations so often that coach Sebastian DiPietro actually has become accustomed to it and is unfazed by his squad's modus operandi.
"I don't worry. They don't worry," DiPietro said. "It's not an issue. The girls keep their spirits up. I think they're always ready for it. We tend to win the first game. In the second game, they finish or stop playing together. By the third game, they're saying 'This is our game.'"
That mentality, prevalent all season, has landed the top-seeded Rams a berth in the MCT final versus second-seeded Mount Olive, which defeated West Morris, 25-13, 25-15, in the other semifinal.
"It's just team unity," said Rams senior outside hitter Kayla Kemp. "We all want it as badly as the next person. We play hard and manage to pull it off. This is all so amazing. Everything we've done is paying off."
Kemp says Randolph (20-2) is motivated by the fact that the volleyball banner in their gym has nothing on it. Their goal is to change that.
"When I started high school, I noticed it had no titles on it," said Kemp (14 digs, 9 kills). "We want that to change. We want to prove to ourselves and everyone else that it's our year."
In the first game, Randolph was up, 19-14, before the Colts drew even, 20-20, when senior outside hitter Meg Andersen pushed the ball to the corner. A Kinnelon error ensued before Jessica Koop unleashed a trio of aces. The Rams hit long for 24-21. A botched kill attempt by the Colts enabled Randolph to take the first game.
Kinnelon got off to a fast start in the second game, which was tied seven times. At 11-11, the Colts picked up steam and went out in front, 17-12, aided by the Rams' errors. Kinnelon seemed to get ultra fired up on the point it scored for 19-15. Taylor Rosenberg made a running save in the corner and Brooke Matits had two key hits, including the kill.
The Colts stayed ahead and could have closed out at 24-19. Three Kinnelon errors and a pair of aces by Roma Hladky enabled the Rams to knot the score, 24-24. Two more deadlocks ensued before the Colts, their confidence level high, took the set.
"We had all the momentum there," Kinnelon coach Stephanie Finke said. "We kept pushing. The girls play for each other. We lost the momentum in the third set with too many errors. You can't do that against a team like Randolph. They make minimal mistakes."
It was a tight third set, too. The Rams didn't shake off Kinnelon quickly or have an assertive run of points. Ellie DiBrino's kill knotted the score, 21-21, for the Colts, whose biggest deficit was four points. Caileigh Cox's kill to the corner and three errors by Kinnelon allowed Randolph to finish. Cox, a sophomore outside hitter, contributed 16 digs and eight kills for the winners. Kayla Heider made 15 digs.
"If we would've gotten nervous, we would have broken down," Rams sophomore middle Stephanie Renna (10 kills) said. "We couldn't do that. It would mean we have no trust in the team."
Kemp, one of three Randolph seniors, was praised by DiPietro for her leadership abilities.
"Kayla rallies the troops," he said. "She'll yell 'Side out' or 'One pass.' She takes care of the little things and the big things come together. Kayla's that type of player."
She loves her role and hopes it aids the Rams in garnering a much-wanted championship on Saturday, Oct. 29 when they face the Marauders at 7 p.m.
"We're all sisters," Kemp said. "As a senior, I feel a responsibility for picking everyone up. I want to motivate everyone, make sure they have fun. I want everyone to be here for the right reasons."
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