Kean women’s volleyball looks to capture that elisive NJAC championship
By Craig Epstein | Published Oct. 21, 2017
After falling just short of reaching last year’s New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) finals, the Kean women’s volleyball team has entered this season with a chip on their shoulders. With three seniors on the squad, the Cougars are looking to advance even further than they have in the last few years.
Kean leads the league with three returning all-conference players in junior outside hitter Vikki Stec, and middle hitters senior Sara Ridgway and sophomore Jesse Larkin.
Being selected to finish fourth in the 2016-17 NJAC Coaches poll, last season saw Kean finish with a 21-12 record. Between Larkin earning NJAC Rookie of the Year and Ridgway being named to the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Academic All-District Team, the Cougars proved to be one of the top teams in the NJAC.
Now more than halfway through the season and with a record well above .500, Kean has seen Ridgway become the all-time blocks leader for the program as well as pick up their first win over Stockton University since 2001. And with a positive record home, away, and on a neutral court, they are showing that they can win just about anywhere.
“I think our team has overcome so many obstacles this season and we get stronger every practice,” said Larkin. “We’ve had some great accomplishments this season in our conference and I hope to see us become NJAC champions and go to the NCAA tournament.”
Since taking over the women’s volleyball program in 2009, Head Coach Don Perkins has many achievements. His teams have made the NJAC tournament semifinals every year since 2012. They have also accounted for three appearances in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) tournament, with one of them resulting in a championship (2013).
“This team has proven its ability to play at a really high level,” Coach Perkins said when asked about his team’s performance thus far. “First place in the conference and we’ve done it with a variety of systems and styles.”
Coach Perkins is also appreciative of the the fact that he has such a deep roster that is loaded with tons of talented players.
“Some teams rely on the same one to two players every night,” said Perkins. “But with this team if you try to stop one to two players, two more can step up and beat you and that’s really not common for Division III volleyball.”
Much like last season, Kean was once again selected to finish fourth in the NJAC Coaches Poll. Except this time around, they were tabbed as the coaches’ dark horse selection.
Despite their rating and recent history, Coach Perkins is confident in the skill of his players and encouraged by the way they play together.
“Almost every hitter in the gym is capable of being the top scorer at another school,” said Perkins. “This season it’s just worked out beautifully, how they’ve come together and played for each other without ego.”
Going forward, Coach Perkins is excited for what the rest of the season holds but he knows it’s going to be a tough challenge.“They’ve worked very hard to get to this point and I’m excited to see what the rest of the season brings,” said Perkins. “If there is anything to work on with this group it’s just being consistent and responding to every challenge that will come considering teams are seeing our success and starting to gun for us a little more and we need to be ready for everybody’s best shot.”