Donovan Catholic’s girls volleyball team celebrates winning a point during a match. Courtesy photos
Donovan Catholic’s girls volleyball team celebrates winning a point during a match. Courtesy photos

The Donovan Catholic girls’ volleyball program has become one of the best Non-Public as well as best overall teams in the Shore Conference – but the players are about more than just talent on the court.  

Every year, the Griffins have a slogan on their practice shirts and this season it is “Make Every Moment Count.” Sixth-year coach Glenn Jansen feels that has a double meaning that can apply to both playing the sport and exercising one’s faith.  

“From an athletic point, after the last 18 months with COVID-19 and having last season pushed from fall to spring, these girls really understand how important it is to live in the moment and don’t expect anything beyond tomorrow,” Jansen said. “Go out there and make every minute count. Win every point, win every rally, win every match. Don’t take a practice for granted because you never know what’s going to happen.” 

Jansen, a Griffins’ alumnus whose children now attend the Toms River school, also thinks the motto can apply to being a Catholic athlete.  

“The idea of ‘make every moment counts’ transcends sports. It’s about making sure that you put yourself in the proper image, in the Catholic image of everything you do,” the coach said. “Always represent your faith on the court; always represent your family; represent Donovan Catholic and our community at St. Joe’s in the proper light.” 

Jansen pointed out that numerous girls on the team are National Honor Society officers, student council members, or have taken trips abroad for the GOES Mission Trips run by St. Joseph Parish, Toms River.  

It prompted Jansen to note that, “We really have a team of Cathletes who are also devoted to the mission of the Church and active in their faith.

“Donovan Catholic’s message this year is ‘Echo the Good News.’ I’d like to believe that our girls volleyball team – the way they carry themselves on the court and in the community – are always echoing the good news of Donovan Catholic and the Catholic faith.” 

Those sentiments are reflected when it comes to volleyball. Two years ago the Griffins were 29-5 and reached the finals of the Shore Conference Tournament and semifinals of the NJSIAA Non-Public state tournament. Last year they went 8-2 in a COVID-19-shortened season. 

Of their seven losses in the previous two years, four were to Shore Conference rival Southern Ocean Regional High School, Stafford, Township, and one was to Immaculate Heart Academy, in Bergen County, two of the state’s perennial powers.

This season the Griffins are 5-0 with wins over talented St. John Vianney High School, Holmdel, and Pinelands, Tuckerton – two of the Shore Conference’s top programs. They are fueled by four senior captains who have quietly bided their time behind other talented players before emerging this year. Each leads the team in one major statistic and include setter Lane Kulpinski (89 assists), libero Sydney Wacha (33 digs), middle hitter Maddy Oehme (seven blocks) and outside hitter Dana Welch (33 kills).

“I was excited for this group to finally get their opportunity,” Jansen said. “These four young ladies are some of the best volleyball players I’ve had at Donovan in six years and they are the best group of four core players I’ve ever had in 16 years (the previous 10 at Colts Neck). They’ve just had the unlucky reality that they were behind an equally talented senior class.  

“Some of these girls have been chomping at the bit,” he continued. “They’ve either had to play limited roles or play different positions than their natural position. Finally, this year a lot of them are getting a shot.” 

Kulpinski was a co-setter in last year’s 6-2 offensive formation, and she has taken complete control this year. Jansen said “She’s got the best hands in the Shore Conference, she’s a quiet, confident killer.” Wacha is far from quiet, as the coach calls her “fiery, competitive, loud and brash.”  

Oehme was a dominant defensive player last year and this season has become one of the best hitting middles in the conference. At 6-foot-1 “she’s an imposing force at the net.” The versatile Welch has played the middle and on the right and “is our best outside hitter. She has this uncanny ability to kind of levitate while she’s in the air; it’s almost like she presses pause and waits for the ball.” 

The group plays year-round together for the OCVC (Ocean County Volleyball Club) Nationals, and went to Phoenix this summer, where they finished in the nation’s Top 20 for their age group.  

“Those four are the anchor, the base of the success we’ve had thus far,” Jansen said. “They’re gonna do a lot of the heavy lifting.”     

Other seniors aiding the cause are Daphnee Wintrode and Kennedy Austin, who play on the right side and provide a strong balance in the front and back. Victoria Ramos is a quiet but steady outside hitter, while Anglique Gajano, Maddie Borbotko and Viv Drew-Perna round out an uber-talented senior class.  

Underclassmen who are contributing include sophomore Carly Bowbliss, who complements Oehme in the middle; and junior outside hitter Chloe Colaner, who Jansen says “You’d think she has to be a manager because she’s too small to be a volleyball player, but she’s got super human jumping ability, great energy and great hustle.” Rounding out the rotation is sophomore defensive specialist Mac Lindner (team-high 16 aces), “who’s one of the toughest, strongest kids I’ve ever coached.”     

It all adds up to one of Jansen’s deepest teams. Whether it is as good as the 2019 squad remains to be seen, but the potential is there to do some great things.  

“I’m playing more people than I’ve ever played before because of the mix and match combo of offense and defense,” said the coach, who is 17 wins shy of 300. “What’s crazy is all these girls are club players. So I really have fulltime, 12-months-a-year volleyball players in 95 percent of my court positioning. It gives us an advantage over most of the teams we see on our schedule because most of them are volleyball players and that’s it.”