St. Joseph faces tough foe in Southern in T of C final

St. Joseph's Michael Hilyard connects in Tuesday's Tournament of Champions semifinal against Livingston. Photo by: Augusto F. Menezes.

St. Joseph’s Michael Hilyard connects in Tuesday’s Tournament of Champions semifinal against Livingston. Photo by: Augusto F. Menezes.

In search of the school’s fourth state championship, the St. Joseph High School boys volleyball team will battle Southern in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions final tonight at South Brunswick High School.

St. Joseph (41-4), the Central champ, took care of the North 2 winners, Livingston, in straight sets Tuesday behind the strong play of Sean Dacey and Sean Finan. The duo set the tone with strong serves and powerful kills, dispatching the Lancers after getting off to a rough start.

The Falcons, who have played more games than any other team in New Jersey this spring, won the Greater Middlesex Conference regular-season title and exacted revenge against East Brunswick in the NJSIAA Central sectional final to reach the T of C.

Southern, the South champion, defeated North 1 winner Fair Lawn 2-0 in a rematch of last season’s T of C final. The Rams (35-4) haven’t lost since May 11 when they traveled to Metuchen to take part in the Super Six Showcase hosted by St. Joseph. Since that day, Southern has dropped just two sets, and neither of those came in the postseason.

The two teams matched up in the Super Six Showcase, with Southern emerging victorious 2-1 (25-21, 23-25, 25-15). On that day, Luke King registered 41 assists and the duo of Mike Gesicki and Brandon Lee combined for 20 kills. Dacey led St. Joseph with 32 assists and libero Kurt MacDonald dug out 17 balls for the Falcons.

In the other regular-season matchup between the two schools, St. Joseph won in three sets 2-1 (25-21, 27-29, 25-20) behind Finan, who registered 19 kills.

Finan knows that if St. Joseph plays like they did against Livingston on Tuesday, they won’t be too successful against Southern.

“If we come out like we did today (Tuesday), it will be tough to win,’’ Finan said. “So we need to come out even harder, but we just try and focus on what’s happening on our side of the court. We have seen them two or three times so we know each other pretty well.’’

St. Joseph coach Miguel Cabrita said he and his coaching staff wouldn’t do too much tweaking before tangling with Southern. Instead, he’ll try and get his squad ready for their biggest challenge of the season.

“There’s really not too much any team can do at this point,’’ Cabrita said. “There are some minor tweaks and adjustments that can be made, but we’re just going to try and get our guys in the right repetition and not try and introduce anything crazy or new. We just need to make sure they’re mentally focused and ready to play.’’

Since the two schools haven’t faced each other in nearly a month, Cabrita knows he’ll need to go back and remember what worked and what didn’t for St. Joseph against Southern this season.

“We’ve gone back-and-forth with them and we just need to see how our strengths match up with their weaknesses and do the best from there,’’ Cabrita said.

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