Monthly Archives: April 2013

Old Bridge tops Bridgewater-Raritan

Old Bridge's Frank Passalaqua. Photo by: Augusto F. Menezes

Old Bridge’s Frank Passalaqua. Photo by: Augusto F. Menezes

MATAWAN — One major advantage that the Old Bridge High School boys volleyball team has over its opponents this season is that they possess a one-two punch of star players in the middle of their formations.

But since the beginning of the season, the Knights have realized that in order to be dominant as a team, they can’t rely on Aiden Albrecht and Junior Oboh to do all of the heavy lifting during the course of a match.

Of course it helps when the duo connects on their hits throughout a contest and keeps the opposition on their heels, like the pair did Monday against Bridgewater-Raritan.

The two senior captains helped lead a dominant performance, as Old Bridge (11-3) throttled Bridgewater-Raritan 25-17, 25-16 for a 2-0 victory.

“In the beginning of the season, we were focused on our big hitters, but after a loss or two we realized that we’re going to get the best from Aiden and Junior most of the sets, but we have to get everybody involved,” Old Bridge head coach Andrew Hopman said. “When we do that, Aiden and Junior are able to have better games like they did today.”

Throughout the first set, it was Albrecht and Oboh who buoyed the Knights to the lead, but Ryan Villanueva’s serving spurred Old Bridge to a 6-0 run that broke open the score and never allowed Bridgewater-Raritan (8-6) to make a run.

“Our serving has gotten so much better; we started off the season not serving too well, but we worked hard on it and now we have an aggressive plan on serves and we’re following through on it,” Hopman said. “Bridgewater is a great passing team, but I thought they struggled with our serving today.”

All afternoon long, the Panthers struggled to connect passes to set up clean looks for their outside hitters, something their head coach was a bit puzzled by.

“I was a little disappointed in the way that we showed up,” Bridgewater-Raritan head coach Corey Romanak said. “Old Bridge has been a great team for us to play over the years and for us to come in and to give that kind of performance is disappointing. I know that we can play better than that, and I give credit to Old Bridge for making us look so bad, but it was disappointing on our side.”

The Panthers only led 1-0 and 2-1 in the opening set and not at all in the second set, although they did get a bit of momentum with a 4-0 run to close a 16-9 gap to 16-12, but they never got any closer.

“They put up a good block today; I was really impressed with how they were stopping our offense, but on our side we didn’t really have anyone step up and assume any kind of a leadership role today,” Romanak said.

Frank Passalaqua took advantage of Bridgewater-Raritan’s focusing on Albrecht and Oboh by over-powering the Panthers multiple times with his left-handed finishes from the outside of Old Bridge’s formation. With Passalaqua coming up from the back row a number of times, the Knights were able to keep Bridgewater-Raritan guessing where the ball would be coming from.

“Our hitters were on today and we hit well from the back row, so I think that threw them off a little bit,” Hopman said. “When we scrimmaged them early in the season, they played a very scrappy defense and they weren’t expecting us to be setting everyone on our side up like we did today.”


North Brunswick building a contender

North Brunswick's Jon Lin in a 2012 contest.

North Brunswick’s Jon Lin in a 2012 contest.

Over the last few years, the North Brunswick High School boys volleyball team has been building itself into a contender in the Greater Middlesex Conference.

Through eight matches this season, the Raiders have the looks of a squad ready to take that next step.

North Brunswick sits atop the GMC White Division with an 8-0 record through Wednesday, dropping just one set in those matches and outscoring opponents 434-282 in the process.

Leading the way are two seniors — Jon Lin and Rohan Chittella — both of whom have played a lot of volleyball in the last 12 months.

Lin, the Raiders’ primary setter, and Chittella, one of the the team’s outside hitters, have been putting up big numbers since the season kicked off three weeks ago. Lin has racked up 178 assists, good for an average of just over 22 per contest, and Chittella’s 95 kills are tops on the squad.

“Jon and Rohan played full club seasons this year and they played on a team with a lot of the East Brunswick players,” North Brunswick coach Jim Biolsi said. “They gained a lot of exposure from that club season and they have improved greatly from last season. Rohan has great ability to terminate the ball to get kills for us out there.”

Chittella and Lin are two of just three seniors on the Raiders’ roster, the other being Ryan Lehnau. Biolsi says that only graduating two seniors from last year’s squad has helped the current roster exponentially.

“We gained a lot of experience last year and our guys are a lot more capable of dealing with pressure situations and making adjustments in a match,” he said.

One of the big reasons for North Brunswick’s hot start is the ability to serve well and take opponents out of their game plans. Biolsi said his team doesn’t have one go-to server, but instead utilizes the entire roster to float-serve and knuckle the ball over the net.

“Our serving has been very effective and it’s been a team effort,” he said. “We’re not very big and we don’t score a lot through blocks, but we get a lot of aces and we’re forcing a lot of teams to play more defense against us. We try and cause a lot of chaos on the other side of the net when we’re playing. If we serve well, they don’t have their setter hitting it from the ideal position and we’re able to get a lot of blocks up and that’s a big reason as to why we have such a big point disparity.”

Even though the Raiders have put together a solid three weeks, Biolsi knows that tougher days await, starting with Saturday’s matchup against East Brunswick, one of the state’s premier programs and a GMC rival.

“We need to get a measuring stick as to where we stand,” Biolsi said. “We had a tough scrimmage season, and we did pretty well in those contests, but here in the regular season we’re going through the conference schedule and we want see how we do against good teams.”

In order to achieve some of their goals for this season, which include winning the GMC Tournament and hosting the school’s first state tournament game, Biolsi stressed that the Raiders need to continue doing what they’re doing.

“We play a lot of ball control and play fast,” he said. “We need to be quicker and faster and have a good amount of ball control to compete with the bigger schools. That’s the formula that’s been successful for us.”


East Brunswick proves tougher in beating Hillsborough

East Brunswick's Danny Leung sets up a teammate Saturday versus Hillsborough. Photo by: Kathy Johnson

East Brunswick’s Danny Leung sets up a teammate Saturday versus Hillsborough. Photo by: Kathy Johnson

EAST BRUNSWICK — A week ago, the Hillsborough High School volleyball team went point for point with perrenial power East Brunswick in the Hillsborough Invitational.

Saturday, though, was a different story. East Brunswick (7-0) dominated from the start, taking both sets (25-20, 25-19) and cruising to a 2-0 victory on their home floor.

“That’s the best EB has ever played on a Saturday, hands down,’’ East Brunswick coach Greg Rutz said. “”I can’t tell you why, but we passed well which led to our offense.

“We have six good hitters; we can spread the ball around, which makes it hard on defenses. As good as Hillsborough is, they seemed pretty flat on a Saturday morning. That wasn’t the Hillsborough we played last week. They’re a much better squad than that.”

Last weekend, the two teams played two pulse-pounding sets in Hillsborough’s gym, with East Brunswick advancing on total score (23-25, 25-19).

But on this Saturday, the Bears didn’t leave much up for debate, using a 7-0 run in the middle of the first set to distance themselves and put the match out of reach. Jon Wong, East Brunswick’s libero, helped key the spurt with his float-serve and the duo of Jack Fredricks and Mike Manne killed multiple shots on the outside of the formation.

“I think our float-serve worked really well; it kept them on their heels and gave our defense a little bit of a break,” Rutz said. “Once the setters start to distribute the ball, it gets easier for hitters when you go up against a single block.”

Joey DeLuca and Sean Nemec kept Hillsborough in the first set, but their defense couldn’t withstand the Bears’ offensive pressure.

“I knew that they put up a nice block and they have a nice offense, so we focused on slowing down their offense with our blocking,” Hillsborough head coach Todd Sudol said. “That was one of the goals today, to make sure that if we were going to put a ball down on their side, we had to make it something tough.”

The second set saw Hillsborough take a few early leads, but again it was Wong keying a 4-0 run to turn the tides for East Brunswick and help put the match away. Hillsborough got as close as one, when the score was 14-13, but couldn’t muster a comeback.

“They’re a great team and we just didn’t play our best today,” Sudol said. “We just got caught up in a bad rotation and struggled with building our own momentum and that was the match.”

Even though they’re now a perfect 7-0 through the season’s first two weeks, Rutz knows that the Bears have a good ways to go if they want to reach their goals for 2013.

“I personally think we have a long way to go on defense,” he said. “They like to play offense, but they don’t enjoy defense, which is understandable. But, we have to continue to fight on defense to fuel our offense. That’s starting to make sense to them, they’re starting to feed off of defense and allow their offense to come to them.”

Tourney win a boost for Watchung Hills

For the Watchung Hills High School boys golf team, Monday’s tournament at Cherry Valley Country Club in Skillman was a good way to start the season.

Alex Pomerantz’s round of 73 was fourth-best of the more than 90 golfers and the Warriors’ team score of 222 was four shots better than Hunterdon Central for the team title.

Luke and Mike Graboyes finished with rounds of 74 and 75, respectively, to boost Watchung Hills in the 23-team field.

The Warriors will look to take their momentum into Monday’s Somerset County Tournament at Neshanic Valley.

“Obviously, our top three are very tournament-tested players,” Watchung Hills coach Sean Mealey said. “They’ve been playing for so long now and this is third year playing together. They push each other a lot and they set the tone for us.”

Ben Lerner rounded out the Watchung Hills foursome with a round of 84, but Mealey said that he’s still evaluating who’s going to be his fourth golfer this season.

“The fourth guy is always the deciding factor in tournaments,” Mealey said.

Pomerantz’s performance was just one shot off the lead that would have sent him into a playoff with three others.

Although he didn’t come out on top of the individual side of the tournament, Mealey was excited for what that kind of round could do for Pomerantz.

“He (Alex) gets overlooked by the Graboyes’, but Alex deserves the spotlight,” Mealey said. “He’s one of the hardest workers on the team and while he’s always been ready, he’s finally over the hump.”

But the fact that Watchung Hills was able to come out on top of a tournament where Luke Graboyes didn’t lead them is encouraging, according to Mealey.

“We showed we can win when Luke doesn’t shoot the lowest round every time out,” he said. “Alex and Mike have improved and that’s made us steadier. These guys are competitive and it gives us a nice balance for our team going forward.”

St. Joseph’s Taraska cards victory in playoff

Steve Taraska had never been in a playoff before Monday, but the St. Joseph High School golfer acted as if he’d been there all his life.

Taraska entered a three-way playoff for the individual title at the Cherry Valley Tournament and calmly made par while his two competitors, Jack Panagos of Hillsborough and Dylan Stein of Hunterdon Central, made bogey.

“I think it was a big win for Steve personally,” St. Joseph coach Ryan Lechner said. “He’s won before against smaller fields, but this was a bigger, more competitive field.”

Taraska had carded a round of 72, which is par for Cherry Valley Country Club, and headed out to the first tee to begin the playoff. From there, Lechner said, Taraska played it perfectly.

“He hit a beautiful tee shot,” Lechner said. “He left himself 160-165 yards and he told me he remembered how he’d played it the first time through and he laid in a perfect shot from the fairway to leave himself about a 15-20 footer for birdie.

“The other two guys got themselves into a little bit of trouble and Steve two-putted for par. He was very confident in the playoff .”

The Falcons have plenty of matches and tournaments left on their schedule this spring, but for Taraksa to get them started with an individual victory is encouraging, according to Lechner.

“I think this is something we can remember what we’re capable of,” Lechner said. “We have a lot of talent and we just need to harness it. If we have a day when everybody is playing well at the same time, we have a high ceiling and we’ll be hard to beat.”

Hunterdon Central rallies for win

BASKING RIDGE – Despite not leading at all in the first set and not until the score was 4-3 in the second set of Thursday’s match against Ridge, the Hunterdon Central High School boys volleyball team remained focused on the task at hand and thanks to a solid showing from their bench and role players roared back to win the final two sets and emerge victorious, 2-1.

Hunterdon Central gained the momentum they needed for the remainder of the match at the end of the first set, when they came back late to tie the score on two different occasions. Although they lost the set 27-25, Hunterdon Central head coach Steve Fenton saw something in his team at the end of the opener.

“The end of the first set is what got us back into the right tone and the mindset we try and have on this team,” Fenton said. “What we talk about is that this is our business and if everyone does their job and puts in their piece of the puzzle, momentum starts to come back our way and that’s what happened. I was very pleased to see us respond in the correct way and that everyone did their job.”

Fenton used his allotted substitutions to perfection in the remaining two sets, which Hunterdon Central won 25-20 and 26-24, subbing in specific players to serve at key times of the action. But his swaps in personel weren’t reserved simply for serving; Fenton relied on his deep bench of young players to get through a tough time in a difficult matchup.

“One of the things I set up at the beginning, as best as I can, is to get my bench to be an intrical part of this team,” he said. “I knew who to bring in and at what time and they came in and performed.”

Matt Hyman, Billy San Giacomo and Daniel Salerno all came off the bench at different times in the match to help win a key point, especially when Ridge made pushes to take a lead in the final two sets. Hyman and San Giacomo each came up with key aces in the second set and Hyman spurred a 5-0 run in the early part of the second set to buoy the Red Devils to a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Outside hitters Kevin Tripp and Josh Peters helped close out a lot of key points Thursday; especially Tripp who had a lot of power behind his kills, but it was Leo Giovanni, a setter, that helped Hunterdon Central secure a road victory against one of their Skyland Conference rivals.

“I think [Leo] and I are working well together; he’s running the floor well from what I can see,” Fenton said. “And now that I have some trust in him, he’s delivering the balls where I want them and I’m basically playing chess with my opponent. And more often than not, I’m going to win.”

Hunterdon Central, a team that lost eight seniors from last season’s squad, relies on the experience that they gain within matches to get better as the year goes on. A win against Ridge, on the road, is something Fenton believes will help his team as they move forward.

“This is a good challenge for us early in the season, when adversity hits,” Fenton said. “We need to remain strong and a match like this is good for our team to push through this, especially the younger guys. This is only going to add onto what we’ve learned and it’s going to allow us to be more comfortable in those types of situations for the rest of the season.”

Hillsborough shows well in its Invitational

HILLSBOROUGH — For the eighth consecutive season, the Hillsborough High School boys volleyball team played host to the Raider Invitational, which had 10 teams from all over the state on three courts.

Southern captured the title, besting East Brunswick in a one-game, winner-take-all showdown, but the Skyland Conference’s two representatives had plenty to be proud of.

Hillsborough qualified third for the knockout stage of the tournament after going 7-1 against Hunterdon Central, Piscataway, Paul VI and Southern and advanced to the semifinal round, where it bowed out to East Brunswick.

The Raiders won the first of the two games against East Brunswick, 25-23, but never led in Game 2, which the Bears won 25-19. By virtue of total points won, East Brunswick advanced to the championship, but Hillsborough head coach Todd Sudol was pleased with how his team played so early in the season.

“I have to be honest, we played great volleyball all day today,” Sudol said. “I said to my guys that they can’t say they weren’t one of the top teams here or that they didn’t play well today. I’m very proud of the way my guys played. The goal is always to get to the final and play your best, but as a team, we got better today. We got better as a team and our team chemistry got better.”

Sudol believed that East Brunswick and some of the other top teams in attendance Saturday exposed some weaknesses in his squad, but he knows that there is a lot of time to work on correcting those areas.

“It’s still the beginning of the season and again, when you play good, top teams, they’re going to expose some things you need to work on and some flaws,” Sudol said. “The guys agreed with that and we’re going to come back and practice and work on some of those things. Overall, I’m very pleased.”

Hunterdon Central’s Steve Fenton was also pleased with how his very young squad played against elite teams so early in the season.

“We played volleyball the way it’s supposed to be played today. I’m very pleased with that,” Fenton said. “I was so into it today that I got off the bench, and my kids know that that’s something I never do. They emotionally got me into it, with what they were trying to do and that’s a huge positive for us.”

Hunterdon Central went just 2-5-1 in pool play, but they breezed through Paul VI in the first round of the knockout stage (25-11) and battled East Brunswick hard in the quarterfinals (25-16, 25-19), which is encouraging to Fenton.

Piscataway gave Hillsborough everything it could handle before bowing out in the quarterfinal round (25-21, 25-21). But what’s more impressive about Piscataway’s run was that they did it without one of their top players in Ahjon Petty, who’s out with an ankle injury.

Coach Adrian McConney gave high praise to sophomore DaShawn Williams, who stepped in for Petty and helped the Chiefs put a real scare into Hillsborough.

“Some guys like DaShawn are getting some great experience,” McConney said. “We’re starting to mesh and I was able to try some different things. I like some things that I’m seeing.”

East Brunswick takes second in Raider Invitational

HILLSBOROUGH — For the East Brunswick High School boys volleyball team, Saturday’s 8th annual Raider Invitational final against Southern was a lot like a championship boxing match.

The Bears, who won seven of their eight games in pool play to qualify second for the knockout stage, led from the start until the score was 17-16. But top-seeded Southern fought back to force six ties before taking a 23-22 lead that they’d hold on to en route to a 25-23 victory and the tournament title.

“They just kept taking punches and throwing punches and waiting their turn and I guess we dropped our hands a little bit and they hit us a couple of times,” East Brunswick head coach Greg Rutz said. “It is what it is. They beat us and they outplayed us. I thought we played well, but they played a little bit better.”

The Bears wouldn’t have been in the championship fight if not for a dominant effort in the semifinals against Hillsborough. The Raiders won the first game 25-23, but right from the start of Game 2, East Brunswick took charge. They would never trail and used a 5-0 run in the middle of the game to blow it open, eventually winning 25-19.

“I think we started Game 1 poorly; we gave them some points and I think Hillsborough fought so hard to get there, that after Game 1 they were spent. They were done,” Rutz said. “I think they just got a little fatigued and we kept doing what we do. That’s what happens in a tournament like this: you get tired at the end of the day, especially when it’s your own and your emotions are high trying to win it.”

East Brunswick took care of business against Hunterdon Central in the quarterfinal round, easily knocking out the Red Devils by scores of 25-16 and 25-19. But by the time the Bears got to the knockout stage, they’d already played eight games and, with this being the end of the season’s first week, Rutz said his team was feeling it.

“I would think that we got more mentally fatigued than anything,” he said. “I think we got frustrated with what wasn’t being called, on both sides.”

Rutz knows that there are bigger prizes that his team has their eyes on.

“Yeah, it’s fun to win these, but it really doesn’t mean anything,” Rutz said. “The things you want to win are your conference, your conference tournament and the state tournament. Everything along the way is just building blocks to get there.”

The Bears weren’t the only Greater Middlesex Conference team to play well Saturday, as Piscataway gave Hillsborough everything it could handle before bowing out in the quarterfinal round. But what’s more impressive about Piscataway’s run was that they did it without one of their top players in Ahjon Petty, who’s out with an ankle injury.

Coach Adrian McConney gave high praise to sophomore DaShawn Williams, who stepped in for Petty and helped the Chiefs put a real scare into Hillsborough.

“Some guys like DaShawn are getting some great experience,” McConney said. “We’re starting to mesh and I was able to try some different things, which was nice. I like some things that I’m seeing.”