GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — When Absegami Athletic Director Steve Fortis gets into work tomorrow he may want to do a quick inspection of the basketball floor. His daughter Jackie, a junior outside hitter on the Braves’ girls volleyball team, may have put a few dents in it with her massing spikes against Clearview in the South Jersey Group 3 quarterfinals.

Fortis — also a star on Absegami’s girls basketball team — put on a show by racking up 15 kills, and she and the Braves needed every one of them to stave off an upset bid by the No. 6 Pioneers. The third-seeded Braves came back from a 25-19 loss in Game 1 to win the next two games and beat Clearview, 2-1, to set up a showdown with No. 2 Toms River South in Friday’s semifinals. The Indians took care of Mainland in their quarterfinal matchup today.

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“I played middle hitter my freshman and sophomore years and transitioned to outside hitter this year, so I’ve been learning a lot. Once you get that one pass, that one set, that one kill, it gets you in a groove,” Fortis said. “Going in, I was nervous. They have really good hitters who know how to place the ball and we’ve struggled with being mobile on defense. Coming into this game I just tried to remind our girls we have to keep moving and be ready for anything because they are very scrappy, just like we are. In the first game, when I was up front, that’s when we were most confident, but in the second and third games it didn’t matter where anybody was, we were all confident. We shook off those nerves and we played together.”

“This was not even her best game but if you just get her the ball, she’ll put it away,” said Absegami coach Kerry Flukey. “She’s so incredibly athletic and she just gets the game. She has a feel for it. She’ll change positions and she can evolve during a game, especially on defense. It’s just incredible. She’s so much fun to watch and to coach.”

In Game 2, Absegami (9-2) had gotten out to a 10-6 lead before Fortis took over. She had four straight kills — of the vicious variety that strike fear into an opponent — as the Braves took a 15-7 lead. The advantage stretched to 19-11 and Clearview (8-5) was forced to take a timeout. It didn’t help, as the momentum stayed with Absegami. Ayana “Iggy” Crandall spiked home a kill to push the lead to 22-13 and another slam by Fortis made it 24-15, as Gami went on to win 25-17 to force a decisive Game 3.

In that game, Fortis spent much of her time in the back row playing defense and that allowed Crandell and Chi Chi Wokocha to start to take over at the net. The game was tied early, 5-5, before Gami went on an 11-5 run to take a 16-10 lead. The Pioneers, however, surged back and cut the deficit to 18-17 before Crandell came up with a huge kill coming out of a timeout to give the Braves a 19-17 lead. Clearview got to within 20-18 but Absegami ripped off five straight points to close out the match. The run included a huge point from Alex Montoya and three straight aces by Kylee Alvarez. Fittingly, the match ended with a Fortis kill.

“She’s a beast,” Crandell said of her teammate. “Even in the back row she’s a beast and I’ll keep pushing her even when she gets down.”

Losing the first game put the Braves up against the wall, but behind Fortis and Crandell the team responded — once all the initial postseason jitters went away.

“We’re very up-and-down, we’re very young. Skill-wise, we’ve packed into four-to-six weeks what we normally would have done in three months, and we only returned two players from last year. We didn’t think we were going to be this good or go this far, but luckily we’ve been really healthy, and they just have meshed together. They are all nice kids, they’re all coachable and they want to do well. And they are all athletes, they just aren’t necessarily volleyball players,” Flukey said. “Part of that (slow start) is the teams we play in our (Cape-Atlantic League) division aren’t at this level. We add in teams from other conferences to up their play so they can see what it’s like. We beat Eastern but we lost to GCIT, we lost to Pinelands, the two best teams we saw, and that’s just inexperience. Our setter is a sophomore who has never played varsity and our libero is a sophomore who has never played varsity, so in the two positions that are supposed to be the quarterbacks of the team we have two young ones. The older girls have brought them up, and having two soccer players (in Alvarez and Wokocha), they bring the athleticism and the training and calmness that they have.”

“We had some struggles, but we kept pushing and picking each other up. We knew it was going to be a fight tonight, and that’s what we did. It’s a lot of pressure when there is a whole gym full of eyes on you, but I just take that into consideration and do it for the team. It just takes one point at a time,” Crandell said. “We were prepared. It was a little wonky in the beginning but we kept pushing.”

Fortis said the key for the Braves was just to calm down and focus on good passing to set up kill opportunities. Setter Deesha Choksi finished with an eye-popping 25 assists while Crandell and Wokocha each had four kills. Dessiah Key added two kills and three blocks, Brianna Gibson had five service aces and Alex Montoya finished with a kill and six digs.

“I know in the first game we were off with our passing,” Fortis said. “I know for a lot of our girls, this was their first playoff game. Half of them played soccer in the fall so they never could play, so there was a lot of inexperience in that first game and just shaking the jitters off. But my setter, she warmed up and got her jitters out. This is her first year playing varsity, so just having everybody shake those nerves off was the key.”

What’s next: Absegami travels to Toms River South on Friday for the South Jersey Group 3 semifinals, time TBD.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays

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