The Donovan Catholic girls volleyball team celebrates its championship after winning the Moorestown Volleyball Tournament in early September. The Griffins carried a 6-0 record into their key early-season match with Pinelands. Courtesy photo
The Donovan Catholic girls volleyball team celebrates its championship after winning the Moorestown Volleyball Tournament in early September. The Griffins carried a 6-0 record into their key early-season match with Pinelands. Courtesy photo
" They not only do a great job representing Donovan on the court, they take those values and lead the school in how athletes should compete in the image and likeness of Christ. " Glenn Jansen coach, Donovan Catholic girls volleyball

The Donovan Catholic High School girls volleyball team bid farewell to 10 seniors after last season, including four who are now playing in college. But what looked like a rebuilding year has just been business as usual for the Griffins of Toms River.

Donovan Catholic carries a 6-0 record into its Sep. 23 match-up at Pinelands Regional and has not missed a beat with six new starters in the lineup.

“We have a team of predominantly juniors, and they’ve been waiting for their opportunity,” said Glenn Jansen, who is the second winningest girls volleyball coach in Shore Conference history. “They’ve kind of hit the ground running.”

Along with six regular season wins, Donovan Catholic also won the Moorestown Tournament earlier this month by going 11-0 in pool play and bracket play.

“There were 20 teams in that tournament,” Jansen said. “When you win a tournament like that, it’s a great notch in your belt. It was really a good experience to play against that many quality teams to get ready for the season.”

The Griffins defeated longtime rival Pinelands, 25-18, in the finals, and will look to repeat that success in the upcoming dual match. The teams have combined to win the Shore Conference’s B South title each of the past seven years, and one or the other has been in the Shore Conference Tournament championship game five of the last six years.

“We have our biggest test thus far with them,” Jansen said. “There’s a lot of great volleyball coming our way, and this will be the biggest litmus test so far.”

Both teams are unbeaten, although Pinelands was expected to be this good considering the experienced talent it returned. Donovan Catholic, despite a 133-27 record in Jansen’s six years with the program, was somewhat of a question mark due to heavy graduation losses.  

“We’re still a work in progress,” Jansen said. “So, am I proud we’re 5-0? One hundred percent. Did I think we would be 5-0? I sure hoped so, but I didn’t know.”

The lone senior on the squad is captain Chloe Colaner, who has been with the program for three years and is considered “kind of like the spark plug” by Jansen.

“She’s the heart and soul,” the coach added. “She’s the team leader with everything she does in terms of grit. She brings the team together and leads by example.”  

The two returning starters from a 22-5 team that reached the SCT finals are junior outside hitter Macayla Linder and junior blocker Carly Bowbliss.

Jansen refers to junior outside hitter Shantel Starling as “our star in waiting.” Starling suffered a torn ACL as a freshman and missed almost all of last year as well. At 6-foot-1, she is a dynamic force and was named Most Valuable Player at the Moorestown Tournament.

“She’s one of the best players we have in the program,” Jansen said. “She and Macayla kind of do the heavy lifting for us.”

Rounding out the starters are junior center Danielle Tischio, junior middle blocker Julie Williams, junior libero Caleigh Austin and sophomore right side Brooke Bowbliss, the younger but taller sister of Carly.

“We have a pretty big front line at 6-1, 6-0 and 5-11 with Shantel and both Bowbliss sisters out there,” Jansen noted.

Junior Liz Kavanaugh is valuable off the bench, as she can play every position on the court with equal adeptness.

“If anyone is having a bad day, Liz can go in and do everything for anybody,” Jansen said. “Sometimes it’s frustrating because I’d like to have her play one position, but I always say I want volleyball players, not just middles, or outsides or centers. Liz has been our first go-to off the bench.”

Donovan also has the luxury of several role players to insert, including junior defensive specialist Maddie D’Aloisio, junior right Bella Chiaravallo and sophomore middle blocker Christina Ginex.

Jansen pointed out that Chiaravallo and Colaner are both members of the school’s Catholic Athletes for Christ Club, and remarked that “they not only do a great job representing Donovan on the court, they take those values and lead the school in how athletes should compete in the image and likeness of Christ.”

Although loaded with talent, the one facet missing from DC in the early going is a cohesiveness on the court. The players all play club volleyball but do so with different teams, so few have ever played together.

Jansen loves the friendships and chemistry they have developed off the court, and is waiting for things to mesh on it.

“It’s now taking the experiences of life and hanging out as friends, and turning it into teammates who play hard for each other and cover for each other,” the coach said. “There’s not always a carryover because when the game starts you go into a different mode.

“But I would say the chemistry is developing. There’s a lot of great team camaraderie, it’s just developing that mentality in the trenches together.”