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.”