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***There is still plenty to ponder 50 years later about much-talked about Thanksgiving Day game in 1973 between Montclair and rival Bloomfield Bengals at Foley Field!

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***The arrival of winter means it is time to move indoors with both hitting and fielding clinics for area softball players and NJ Pride will have upcoming clinics in Fairfield & Verona. See "Feature Articles"

***West Essex's Ryan Lasher had biggest TD run of season vs. West Morris in a Group 3 semifinal win as Knights senior running back is the latest Parisi Fairfield/SC AOW honoree. See more in "The Buzz"

Katie Meehan (2) and the Verona Hillbillies celebrate point in regular season action at Mount St. Dominic. The 'Billies came up huge in the recent state tournament capturing Group 1 championship to cap 25-4 season of success. (Photo by Jeff Stiefbold -

Chemistry-Laden Verona Spikers Excelled
In A Strong Run To Group 1 Championship

By Steve Tober

One ingredient that is paramount to team success is certainly good chemistry, which has different degrees of importance depending on the sport involved, but when you’re talking about volleyball the ‘C’ word has ultimate importance in terms of success on the court.

Verona, which recently completed a banner 25-4 season, capped a strong run in the NJSIAA state tournament by capturing the overall Group 1 championship, the second one for the Hillbillies who also earned a Group 1 title in 2016.

Verona got stronger as the 2023 season progressed which is always an indication of who will be the best teams in the end, and the togetherness of this particular Hillbillies squad was indeed special in addition to a high talent quotient.

“As in all sports, but specifically volleyball, team chemistry is everything,” said Verona fifth-year head coach Ryan Brown. “These girls put in a lot of work not just on the court, but off the court as well to build trust and camaraderie that separates the good teams from the great ones.

“Once that trust is built, they can work together towards a common goal, and they did just that, fighting every day for a group championship.”

Spearheading the chemistry-laden Hillbilly spikers was the tight-knit and gifted senior class.

“These seniors worked really hard to build that team chemistry, leading the way with team breakfasts, lunches, and dinners and bringing everyone together off the court so they have maximum trust on the court,” said Brown. “Their work in this area amplified the hard work they put forth on the court.”

Helping to lead the solid, core group of seniors were Emily Theobald, Marley Kramer, Katie Meehan, and Kendra Santos.

“Each of these girls worked well together to make our team successful, but none of them did it individually,” added Brown. “Each of them built off the strengths and weaknesses of one another, along with many others, to make a complete team. Emily led us in the middle, Marley was a key distributor to our hitters, Katie worked hard to get Marley the ball, and we turned to Kendra when we needed someone to put the ball away.”

Cara DeMars (163 service points) was another outstanding senior who combined with Theobald (27 blocks, 170 kills), Kramer (531 assists), Meehan (302 digs, 44 aces) and Santos (210 kills, 47 aces) to make life very difficult for opponents.

Sophomore Jessica Theobald, one of the team's top underclassmen, finished her fine season with 113 kills.

Throughout the 2023 fall campaign the ‘Billies kept progressing as a whole while facing a strenuous slate of foes.

Those opponents included a host of strong, larger schools such as Super Essex Conference-American Division rivals Livingston and Millburn along with non-conference foes such as Immaculate Heart and Montville.

Facing that caliber of a schedule certainly helped the Hillbillies evolve into one of the best teams in the state by season’s end.

“I always like to challenge our team, our conference does an amazing job of that every year and this year was no exception,” said Brown. “But, scheduling more games like IHA and Montville all add up to create a team that's truly prepared for battle, even if it means a few losses.”



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