RANDOLPH _ There's usually laughter, joking and singing when the Mount Olive volleyball team takes to the road for a game.
On Saturday, Oct. 28 prior to the Morris County Tournament final, the bus transporting the Marauders was uncharacteristically quiet with the majority of the players listening to music.
"We're usually so silly," said Mount Olive senior setter and defensive specialist Lauren Miller. "We have fun on the bus. When we got here, we were calm, collected, in the zone. We were so focused. Laser focused."
Being ultra honed in benefited top-seeded Mount Olive as it repeated as MCT champion by beating seventh-seeded Randolph, 25-17, 22-25, 25-17.
At the core of the victory was MVP Annie Karle, the senior outside hitter who accumulated 22 kills and 12 digs. Of course, it wasn't all Karle. In all three games, most notably the second, the Marauders, hurt by double hit and in-the-net calls, battled before regaining control and closing out the match.
"It feels amazing. Honestly, it does," Mount Olive's Ally Dombrowski said. "Losing the second game pushed us. We didn't back down. We never stopped fighting."
The decisive third set was a tense one, just like the other two. Following three early deadlocks, the Marauders (24-2) began to pull away. Karle and Britney Rivera ruled at the net, putting down kill after kill. Leading 11-8, Mount Olive reeled off five straight points to go up, 16-8.
Randolph got within four and five points, 18-14 and 20-15, respectively, near the end. However, the Rams made some costly errors, sending serves and kill attempts long. Meanwhile, Mount Olive thrived with with better communication and teamwork.
"We had a rough second set so it was really nice to win," Miller said. "We had a lot of energy in the third set and brought home the title. Our communication, which lacked in the second game, improved a lot. We didn't move well, either, and that got better. We had a few bad spots. Energy pieced us back together."
The game was Dombrowski's first since spraining her left ankle a week and a half ago while making a block during practice. The sprain made the senior middle blocker fear the worst. As a sophomore, Dombrowski twisted her right ankle at a practice after the team's first game and sat out the entire season.
"I was there for senior night on Tuesday but today is my first hardcore comeback game," Dombrowski said. "I wanted to be back, needed to be back. All of could think of was this game. It's big. I had to be there for the team. They've been there for me."
Randolph was superb in the second game fueled by Stephanie Renna, who fueled the team's bursts with a number of well-placed kills. Also strong was Caileigh Cox (8 kills, 11 digs). At 10-10, the Rams pulled in front and never trailed. On top, 18-16, Randolph scored the next three points. Two of those points were kills by Renna (12 kills, 10 digs, 10 service points). Clinging to a 22-21 advantage after a Karle kill, the Rams received a block from Cox then won three of the next four points to take the game.
"We play pretty clean," Miller said. "I think we won the first game and thought we were in a good situation and that they'd shut down. But this is Randolph and they're a great comeback team. We had to stay grounded."
Dombrowski said the second game "got in our heads and we were overwhelmed."
"We just played harder in the third game," Dombrowski said. "I'm glad we can do what we do. I'm astonished by all of this. To be here a second time is great and to win is the best."
Rivera finished with eight kills and seven digs and Isabella Soriano amassed 24 assists for Mount Olive. Catarina Dubeux contributed 17 digs for the winners. Randolph's Alexis Kemp had 27 assists.
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