Category Archives: Boys Volleyball

Bridgewater-Raritan falls to Southern in T of C semifinals

Near the end of the first set in Tuesday’s NJSIAA Tournament of Champions semifinal, the Bridgewater-Raritan High School boys volleyball team stormed back to take a 23-22 lead, prompting Southern to call a timeout.

As champions do, Southern (36-2) replied with three straight points to win the set and the defending state champs rallied to take the second set as well, earning a sixth straight trip to the Tournament of Champions final in South Brunswick.

Behind the stellar play of senior Mike Gesicki, Southern proved too much for the Central Jersey champion Panthers (23-7), who were valiant in defeat.

“I think they just had a few more kill opportunities than we did in transition; we gave up a couple more free balls that they were swinging back at us, and at this level, you have to be aggressive to win,” Bridgewater-Raritan coach Corey Romanak said. “You’re not going to win by hitting free balls over the other team’s swings, so I think they were a little more aggressive at the net and that was the difference.”

Gesicki, who will play football at Penn State in the fall, had seven kills in each set, and Romanak knew his squad would have to pay extra attention to the 6-5, 245 pound middle blocker.

“We know his strong shot is across court, so we tried to move the block, trying to force him a little bit into an uncomfortable position, but he’s a great athlete,” Romanak said. “We had a couple of plays on him, but not enough to stop him.”

Mitchell Repak and Danny Gallagher paced Bridgewater-Raritan with seven and six kills respectively and Niko Lambert finished with nine digs, while BJ Blair had 21 assists and five digs for the Panthers, who were making their first appearance in the Tournament of Champions since 2006.

With six state titles — tied for most all-time — Bridgewater-Raritan will have to wait at least one more year before adding to the total.

But on Tuesday, Romanak’s usage of timeouts nearly got the Panthers into Thursday’s championship match. After each of his four timeouts, Bridgewater-Raritan won the immediate point, including going on a 5-0 run to take the 23-22 lead late in the first set. He said afterward that he simply told his players to remain focused, and it translated on the court.

“You’re playing one of the best teams in the state and one of the parts of the game plan coming in was we had to stay disciplined and stay aggressive. I think that after each timeout, there was no letup,” Romanak said. “When you play a team like Southern, you can get star-struck by some of their swings, and we didn’t do that. We knew coming in that Gesicki was going to get his swings, but we know that they’re only worth one point. We played aggressive for every point there was and whenever had the opportunity to capitalize on a point, I feel like we did. But I think they had a few more swings than we did today.”

Bridgewater-Raritan, which was swept in the prestigious Super Six Tournament at St. Joseph in early May — with a loss against Southern thrown in — and looked like it wouldn’t be much of a factor in the state tournament, left Romanak very proud following the loss Tuesday.

“I couldn’t be any prouder of this team; they’re the true definition of a team,” he said. “You look at our stats, we don’t have one guy that’s getting 30 kills a match; I have five guys that are getting six kills a match. I love this team.”

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Decision to play libero pays off

St. Joseph's Kurt MacDonald, the 2013 Home News Tribune Boys Volleyball Player of the Year. Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan

St. Joseph’s Kurt MacDonald, the 2013 Home News Tribune Boys Volleyball Player of the Year. Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan

When Kurt MacDonald decided to start playing volleyball competitively, he knew he’d be limited in what position he’d play on the court because of his 5-foot 8-inch frame. He could have chosen to be a setter, but instead landed on the defensive specialist position of libero. The rest, as they say, is history.

In three seasons, MacDonald became the St. Joseph High School all-time leader in digs with 1,039 and in each of his three seasons as a member of the varsity squad, MacDonald played in the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament title game. This year, to top off his stellar career, he helped the Falcons get to their first NJSIAA Tournament of Champions Final since 2008 by recording a state-best 568 digs.

MacDonald is The Home News Tribune’s Player of the Year.

When it came time to choose a sport to try out for in the spring of 2010, MacDonald had a difficult decision to make.

“Volleyball is probably my best sport, but I was really good at lacrosse too,” he said. “I chose volleyball about a week before the tryouts because I thought I had a better chance because of my size.”

From there, MacDonald spent one season on the freshman team before forcing his way onto the varsity squad, coached by Miguel Cabrita.

“Going into sophomore year I was supposed to be a practice player on varsity and a starter on JV, but I wound up working my way onto the varsity as the libero,” MacDonald said. “I knew I couldn’t be a hitter and I just wound up having the agility and the lateral movement to be a libero. I trained to play libero and I love it.”

He displayed that lateral movement at the most opportune time this season. With the score tied late in the deciding third set against East Brunswick in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Final, MacDonald dove to his left, extended his left arm and connected with the ball for his 19th dig of the contest. But not only did he get to the ball, he got enough of it to deflect it over the net and out of the reach of all six East Brunswick players to give St. Joseph a lead they wouldn’t relinquish en route to the sectional title.

“It was one of those moments that you always think about to be the game-changer and be the one to make the play that turns the game around,” MacDonald said. “It was in the third set when the score was tied and the opportunity presented itself and that’s what we train for.”

MacDonald, who plans on continuing his volleyball career next spring at Ramapo College, is the vocal leader and the one that can get in the face of his teammates at any point during a match.

“He’s the first one to tell the guys when they’re not living up to their potential and doing what they’re supposed to be doing and they respect that,” Cabrita said. “They won’t argue with him, they’ll just look at him and realize what they’re doing wrong and they bring their ‘A’ game. It’s good to have him on the court for us.”

MacDonald finished his St. Joseph career with 53 service aces and just 19 assists to go along with the more than 1,000 digs. Six years later, it seems like he made the right choice when choosing which position to play.

“I wouldn’t change it for anything,” he said. “I love moving around and sacrificing my body and making cool plays to get the crowd going.”

East Brunswick had stellar mark for Rutz

The East Brunswick High School boys volleyball team enjoyed a season to remember in 2013, taking home the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament title and reaching the finals of the NJSIAA Central Tournament, all while recording 30 victories to just four defeats. The man behind the Bears’ success, head coach Greg Rutz, wasn’t quite sure how his team would perform heading into the campaign.

“I knew coming into the season we had an athletic group, but we had a couple of holes that we had to fill,” he said. “We tried to get the right mix and in the end, I think we had the right mix of players, but St. Joe’s had our number.”

Rutz is The Home News Tribune’s Coach of the Year.

In winning the GMCT, East Brunswick toppled St. Joseph, who accounted for three of the Bears’ four losses this season, in a dominant 2-0 decision.

“They definitely didn’t show up and we definitely did and when that happens, that’s the result you end up with, no matter what level you’re playing at,” Rutz said.

The 30 wins that East Brunswick collected was the fourth-highest total state wide in 2013 and the Bears went 29-1 against teams other than St. Joseph.

DeLuca set table for 19-7 Raiders

Hillsborough's Joe DeLuca, the 2013 Courier News Boys Volleyball Player of the Year. Photo by: Augusto F. Menezes

Hillsborough’s Joe DeLuca, the 2013 Courier News Boys Volleyball Player of the Year. Photo by: Augusto F. Menezes

For a setter on the volleyball court, everything funnels through them in order for the offense to work and in turn for the defense to be in the right position. It’s important to have a setter that is comfortable in his role, and in that respect, Hillsborough High School senior Joe DeLuca is as comfortable as comfortable gets.

The University of Delaware-bound star led all of Somerset County in assists this spring, racking up 680 in total in helping the Raiders defend their Skyland Cup title and advance to the semifinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Tournament. He finished his career with 1,489 assists and he went over 40 in a match three times this season, with a season-high 43 coming in April against Old Bridge.

DeLuca is The Courier News’ Player of the Year.

“I started going to volleyball camps in seventh grade and that’s when I got my first taste of it and during my freshman year of high school, I fell in love with the sport,” DeLuca said. “I knew that it’d be one of my main sports, because I’d played soccer all my life, but once volleyball came around, it just changed my whole priority list, sports wise.”

Thankfully for Hillsborough, DeLuca focused on volleyball. His sure handedness made him an obvious choice for one of the two co-captains for the Raiders this season, but the difference from four years ago to now has been DeLuca’s vision on the court.

“It felt great (to be a captain), because I’ve been with these boys for the last four years and being able to rally them up after every point and keep everything strict and on-point,” DeLuca said. “From freshman year to now I think the thing I learned the most is being able to read the play and know when to run certain plays for our team and that’s something the coaches and I have figured out to use to our advantage.”

The Raiders went 19-7 in 2013, winning eight of the final 11 matches. During that run, Hillsborough retained their Skyland Cup title from a season ago, taking out rival Bridgewater-Raritan in straight sets on May 11. The two teams had split their pair of regular season meetings and DeLuca knew what was at stake in the third meeting.

“Bridgewater-Raritan is a great team and they’ve always been a rival for Hillsborough in all sports, not just volleyball, and we split with them in the regular season but found a way to beat them in two sets in the Skyland Cup and that was a really great moment,” DeLuca said. “That was one of the things we wanted to do the most, prove to ourselves and prove to the team that we were able to beat Bridgewater-Raritan when it mattered most.”

One year after finishing second in the state with 809 assists, DeLuca credits the work of the eight seniors on the roster with playing top-level volleyball in 2013.

“There was a lot more senior leadership this year,” he said. “I think all of us worked together to keep the practices at a high competition level and in general, our communication was better and the chemistry between the players was a lot better. Practices were really fun this year and when you win a match and see everyone following with you is really a great feeling for a captain because you’re helping lead them to success.”

Hillsborough achieved goals under Sudol

After each season, the Hillsborough High School boys volleyball team sets goals for themselves for the following campaign.

Heading into the 2013 season, the Raiders, under the direction of coach Todd Sudol, knew they wanted to win the Skyland Conference and retain their Skyland Cup.

Missions accomplished.

The Raiders toppled Bridgewater-Raritan 2-0 on May 11 to keep the Skyland Cup for the second year and Sudol credits his seniors for the success.

“The first thing that stands out is that I’m very fortunate to have the senior leadership,” he said. “It goes a long way in the close matches.”

Sudol is The Courier News Coach of the Year.

Hillsborough went 19-7 and reached the semifinals of the NJSIAA Central sectional Tournament, falling to eventual champion St. Joseph.

“This was a special group I wish I could go through it again with these guys,” Sudol said. “I got a lot of mileage out of my seniors. They all stepped up individually at one point or another. It’s not every year when you get a group that’s talented and focused.”

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.”

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.

St. Joseph focuses on task, defeats Livingston

St. Joseph's Sean Finan and Greg Vatjay go up for a block during Tuesday's Tournament of Champions semifinal against Livingston. Photo by: Augusto F. Menezes.

St. Joseph’s Sean Finan and Greg Vatjay go up for a block during Tuesday’s Tournament of Champions semifinal against Livingston. Photo by: Augusto F. Menezes.

MONMOUTH JCT. — When the St. Joseph High School boys volleyball team is focused on the task at hand, they’re very difficult to handle.

Despite the tough play of Livingston in the first set of Tuesday’s NJSIAA Tournament of Champions semifinal, the top-seeded Falcons rallied and moved closer to their first state title since 2008 with a 2-0 (26-24, 25-16) victory.

They will play Southern Regional, a 2-0 winner over Fair Lawn, in Thursday’s final.

The Falcons got a push from the North 2 champions in the opening set, but it wouldn’t have been so close if not for unforced errors in the serving department.

In last Friday’s Central sectional final, the jump-serves of Michael Hilyard and Ray Kowalski won St. Joseph the match over East Brunswick. But against Livingston (26-5), each of the seniors hit the net with their first serve, handing the ball back to the Lancers.

“In the first set we tried to go out there and go too hard too fast, we couldn’t get a serve into the court and we were trying to serve real aggressive and that too some momentum from us so we were getting frustrated and it impacted our hitters,” St. Joseph coach Miguel Cabrita said.

The two teams were tied nine times in the opening set, but St. Joseph (41-4) picked up the momentum they needed when Sean Finan delivered a powerful kill to put the Falcons up 20-18.

Bryan Rafano thwarted a Livingston surge with a point of his own and then Finan finished it off with a thunderous kill at the net.

“Sean has always been our go-to guy and we rely on him to be cool, calm and collected,” Cabrita said. “He always holds his composure and as long as his passing is on the offense comes to him, so we relied on him a lot today.”

Finan finished with 11 kills in the contest and also added four digs.

“I was just trying to be fired up and keep everybody else fired up,” he said. “When our energy is up, it usually shows in the way that we play, so I just try and go around and tell all the guys to stay focused on every single point individually.”

From the opening serve of the second set, St. Joseph was indeed focused, leading from the start behind Finan and setter Sean Dacey, the latter of whom now has a state-best 1,170 assists this season. Finan picked up a pair of aces in the second set and Dacey chipped in one of his own to lead the Falcons’ surge.

“In the second set, we scrapped the aggressive serving and we stuck to what we know is consistent; serve the ball tough, but nothing crazy, so we at least have a chance on defense,” Cabrita said.

Dacey led the Falcons with 25 assists in the contest and libero Kurt MacDonald recorded 17 digs to up his state-best total to 560.

“Kurt’s always been that catalyst that gets the whole team motivated and he’ll come up with some of those big plays that you’ll see,” Cabrita said.

Finan knows that his squad will need to play a much better brand of volleyball if they’re going to win the school’s fourth state title Thursday afternoon. But, the senior noted that it would be such a big accomplishment if this particular Falcons team were able to get the job done.

“It’s very important for us, if we come out like we did today, it will be tough to win. So we need to come out even harder,” Finan said. “We’ve had good teams in the past and we’ve been so close and it would mean everything to get over that hump and win a state championship.”

Seniors help St. Joseph prevail over E. Brunswick in three sets

METUCHEN — For the nine seniors in the St. Jo­seph High School boys volleyball roster, their fourth matchup of the season against East Brunswick was going to be their last home match, regardless of the outcome. The top-seeded Fal­cons made sure that the final time they pulled on their home uniforms would be a memorable one, prevailing in three sets (21-25, 25-17, 25-22) to win the NJSIAA Cen­tral final Friday after­noon.

The Falcons dropped the opening set in front of a raucous crowd that filled every available seat in the St. Joseph gymnasium, but turned it on in the final two sets, behind the stellar play of Michael Hilyard and Ray Kowalski. The pair of seniors took second­seeded East Brunswick out of their rhythm with powerful jump-serves.

“I really just wanted to finish it out and do some damage and help my team and I gave it ev­erything I had,” Hilyard said. “It feels amazing.”

St. Joseph seized con­trol of the match in the middle set, leading the entire way, with Kowal­ski playing a major role. He was directly in­volved in four consecu­tive points as the Fal­cons took a 7-4 lead, ei­ther with a block or a kill, but the Falcons weren’t able to pull away from the Greater Mid­dlesex Conference Tour­nament champions. Dan Leung kept the Bears within striking distance, but a 6-0 run with Hi­lyard serving opened up a six-point lead at 19-13 and gave the home team all the room they need­ed.

“We just stopped be­ing afraid to hit it out of bounds and we really turned up our offense in­stead of just trying to tip the ball up and over the net,” Hilyard said. Kowalski finished off the second set with a powerful kill to set up a dramatic final between the top two teams in the state. East Brunswick took early leads of 1-0, 2-1 and 6-5, but there were 17 ties in the final set, in­cluding consecutive points from 9-16 and 18-22.

One of the biggestplays of the set came when St. Joseph’s Kurt MacDonald dove to his left and one-handed a dig over the net and out of the reach of the entire East Brunswick squad for a point that electrified the standing-room only crowd.

“We’re used to playing matches where we go into a gym and it’s just as loud and there’s probably half a dozen St. Joe’s fans,” St. Joseph coach Miguel Ca­brita said. “And for the guys today, they kept say­ing in timeouts that these people are all here for us. We can’t let them down and I loved hearing that.”

The Bears took the lead at 22-21, but St. Joseph battled back to force the last of the 17 ties at 22-22 before East Brunswick’s Alec Weissman was whis­tled for a net violation. The final two points of the match came on aces from Hilyard, who felt extra motivation to beat the Bears.

“It feels amazing be­cause they’re always our biggest rival, so we re­spect the competition and it was a really great game,” he said.

East Brunswick sur­vived a 5-0 Falcons run in the middle of the first set to take the early lead, be­hind the swinging of Jack Fredricks. The senior converted the final two points of the set, both powerful kills, but the Bears couldn’t seal the deal and advance to next week’s Tournament of Champions.

“The toughest matches are the ones when you drop the first set,” Cabrita said. “The other team has a comfort level and they’re in their wheel­house and they’re not afraid to make mistakes because they have a set under their belt. But our guys held strong and not once did they turn on each other or blame anybody but themselves. I told them that I’m the most proud of this team than I have been in a very long time because they did all the things the coaches asked of them.”

The Falcons will com­pete in Tuesday’s Tourna­ment of Champions at South Brunswick High School against one of the other three sectional champions.

“I have a really good feeling about this year; we haven’t won since 2008 and I’d really like to bring it home my senior year,” Hilyard said.

East Brunswick tops Old Bridge once again

EAST BRUNSWICK — As hard as it is to beat a team three times in one season, it’s even harder to knock off the same opponent four times in the same campaign.

The East Brunswick High School boys volleyball team, however, was able to take care of business against a familiar foe, defeating third-seeded Old Bridge 2-0 (25-22, 25-13) to advance to Friday’s NJSIAA Central sectional finals.

East Brunswick will meet the top seed, St. Joseph, for the title on Friday in Metuchen.

The second-seeded Bears (30-3) took all four meetings from Old Bridge this season in straight sets, but received a little bit of help on this day.

Junior Oboh, one of Old Bridge’s stars, was not available for the contest after breaking his ankle while playing for a Six Pack team in Richmond, Va. His void in the Knights’ defense allowed Mike Manne and the rest of the Bears to swing away at will in the middle of the floor.

Despite the fact that East Brunswick had topped Old Bridge (21-9) in their previous meetings, Bears’ coach Greg Rutz knew his team couldn’t just roll the ball out and emerge victorious.

“When you beat someone multiple times, your kids get it in their heads they’ve already beaten that team,” Rutz said. “They think it’ll be easy and it’s not easy. The other team comes in more fired up and more prepared. No matter what the score says, it doesn’t get any easier. They were missing a valuable player and they played great today.”

Even without Oboh, Old Bridge came out as the more determined team, at least in the first set, when they forced 13 ties and took three separate leads. Aiden Albrecht, the other star in the Knights’ lineup, buoyed a comeback from an early 4-0 deficit to take their first lead at 10-9.

But Manne and Dan Leung, who combined for 10 kills in the match, exploited the hole in Old Bridge’s defense time after time, and Manne finished the set with a powerful kill onto the court.

“They were out-playing us; Aiden made some great swings and they made some good defensive stops at the net,” Rutz said. “They came in with some energy and we came in saying ‘oh, there’s no Junior, we can relax a little bit.’ But Old Bridge is still a good squad and they showed it. They battled and luckily we got the better of them in the last couple points.”

After taking the lead in the first set at 21-20, the Bears never looked back, leading the second set from the opening serve and cruising to a relatively easy win. Manne, who also came up with two huge blocks, including one to seal the match, has improved since the start of the season to a point where he’s now comfortable in what he’s doing.

“The biggest improvement for Mike is that he’s more comfortable around us,” Rutz said. “We know that he can put balls away and he knows when he gets the ball, he’s going to put it away. When he and the setter are connecting, that’s how good Mike is.”

With St. Joseph taking care of Hillsborough in straight sets to advance to the finals, Manne thinks his squad may have a leg up on their Greater Middlesex Conference rival.

“They are already out of school and we’re still here, practicing on a regular routine and such, and they’re a little out of sorts, so we’re going to try and exploit that a little bit,” he said.