By BRIAN CUNNIFF
ERMA — At 4:09 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, Tabitha Tobias finally started the high school girls volleyball season in Cape May County.
Tobias, of Middle Township, tossed the ball into the air and slapped it across the net toward Lower Cape May’s team.
That first serve came a long time after it was supposed to.
The COVID-19 pandemic pushed girls volleyball season, usually held in September and October, to a mid March start.
But even though the season has begun six months late and will only last about six weeks, the athletes and coaches are ecstatic to get the opportunity to participate.
“It’s odd, to say the least, but we’ve been overcoming all the challenges and the girls were very eager to start,” said Middle Township coach Nicole Robinson, whose team earned a 2-0 sweep in a very competitive match, taking the two games by razor-thin margins of 27-25 and 25-23.
“We had to reach out to the girls back in the fall letting them know we couldn’t play,” Robinson added. “As soon as we got word there would be a season in the spring, everyone was on board and they were all so excited. We have a dedicated group here that’s ready to go.”
Lower Cape May held its Senior Night ceremonies before the match. It’s an event usually held before the final home of a high school sports season, but many programs in many sports this scholastic year have alertly been holding them early due to uncertainty with just how long a season might last due to the pandemic.
It was an extra-special ceremony for Lower, since its seniors are the first four-year players in program history. Lower added girls volleyball as a varsity sport when the current seniors were freshmen in the fall of 2017.
“I’ve been really frustrated, and I know everybody’s been frustrated with COVID,” Lower coach Rick Ferrante said. “But I was most frustrated with the thought of our seniors not getting to play this season.
“They came in here as freshmen and sophomores and learned, they stayed with it as juniors and really started to enjoy the sport and then all I thought about was how awful it would have been if they didn’t get to play their last year. So forget about the wins and losses. Just to be out here playing is just great.”
Both games went back and forth, with neither team holding more than a four-point lead at any point. In fact, both games were tied late, with Game 1 at 25-25 and Game 2 at 23-23, before Middle scored two straight points in each to pick up the victory.
Tobias posted five aces among her eight service points and also had four assists for Middle. Alexis Stouffer had five assists, Trinity Anderson led the team with nine service points and Morgan Kern chipped in with two kills.
“This surpassed what (assistant) coach (Stacey) Hand expected out of them,” Robinson said. “We only had a week of practice to get ready but they’ve been training really hard. I’m really proud of them.”
For Lower, Audra Sockriter had five kills, Joelle DuFault posted nine service points and Kalyn Witkowsky recorded five aces.
“We were supposed to be here in September, so here it is now in March,” Ferrante said. “This has been a really, really long time to go without playing, considering the kids last played in October (2019). But I think we’re all grateful we can do this.”