St. Joseph falls to Southern in T of C final

St. Joseph's Bryan Rafano connects in front of two Southern defenders in Thursday's Tournament of Champions Final. Photo by: Robert Ward

St. Joseph’s Bryan Rafano connects in front of two Southern defenders in Thursday’s Tournament of Champions Final. Photo by: Robert Ward

MONMOUTH JCT. — The victory that mattered most this season escaped the St. Joseph High School boys volleyball team on Thursday.

Despite winning more matches this season than any other squad in the state, the Falcons (41-5) didn’t execute like they have all season and Southern Regional took full advantage, taking home the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions title 2-0 (25-22, 25-20) at South Brunswick High School.

“We made too many mistakes,” St. Joseph coach Miguel Cabrita said. “We had some miscommunication and when we did have some great defensive plays, we couldn’t execute and put them away for a point. It was frustrating.”

The duo of Kyle Ficken and Mike Gesicki led the way for Southern, teaming up at the net to block numerous St. Joseph shots and thwart some jump-serves of the Falcons. Gesicki was the most notable player on the court for either team, flying through the air to connect on swings and rising well above the net with both arms extended for blocks and tips.

“Killing the ball is one of the things we do the best and I don’t know if our guys were hyping themselves up too much in their head or what, but it was a back-and-forth game all the way through,” Cabrita said. “Even in the last set I had a feeling the guys were going to get it together and climb back into the match, but the back-to-back-to-back errors sucked the life out of us and it’s tough for high school players to bounce back mentally from that.”

In the second set, St. Joseph used a 7-0 run to turn an 11-7 deficit into a 13-11 lead, but Southern countered with a 7-0 run of their own to seize control of the set and ultimately the match. Cabrita thought his team would turn in one of their classic come-from-behind victories, much like they did against East Brunswick in the Sectional Final, but the pressure from the Rams was too much to overcome.

“We kept talking about how we did the same thing to East Brunswick in the sectional final,” he said. “How we’d lost the first set and came back and got fired up for the second and third sets. That’s what I was hoping for today. Things just didn’t go our way.”

The jump-serves that had gotten St. Joseph to this point bit them against Southern. Michael Hilyard and Ray Kowalski served into the net on multiple occasions and the usually sure-handed Sean Finan spiked his final serve of the season into the net, which gave the ball back to Southern at championship point.

Ficken and Gesicki rose as one in the left side of the Rams’ formation and blocked a St. Joseph swing right onto the floor, setting off a wild celebration with the throngs of students and fans that made the hour-plus drive from Ocean County.

“I’m so proud of our guys for a fantastic season,” Cabrita said. “They had a lot of accolades thrown their way and I wish they could have received the ultimate reward today, because I thought this was a group that was so deserving of it. They worked so hard, beyond belief, and they did more than we even asked of them.”

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