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.”