Category Archives: Features

Cavallo has grown into leadership role for Hillsborough

Hillsborough's Erika Cavallo (right) scoops up the ball as Bridgewater-Raritan's Ally Mastroianni chases down the play on Tuesday. Photo by: Kathy Johnson

Hillsborough’s Erika Cavallo (right) scoops up the ball as Bridgewater-Raritan’s Ally Mastroianni chases down the play on Tuesday. Photo by: Kathy Johnson

HILLSBOROUGH — Over the past four seasons, Erika Cavallo has become one of the best players in Hillsborough High School girls lacrosse history, simply by putting in the time and energy to get better. After just blending in as a freshman and scoring four goals in four games, Cavallo has turned into a force for the Raiders, working her way up from third-leading scorer on the team to the club’s go-to scorer and leader on the field as a senior.

She said that coming into the program four years ago and playing with so many quality players, including 2013 Courier News Player of the Year Kristina Dunphey, has helped her become a star.

“When I came in as a freshman, there were a lot of really good players that were leaders, and I knew going into these last couple of years that I would have to become a leader myself and I knew that having that role would help me progress as a player on the field,” Cavallo said. “I think I developed a lot over the years and I have a great coach, who’s very competitive, and she just encouraged me to get better.”

Head coach Beth Murrin, who’s seen Cavallo evolve during her career, said that as a freshman, she had a lot of raw athleticism and competitiveness, but she’s turned that into so much more in her final campaign.

“She loves the pace of it and she loves being in that competitive environment,” Murrin said. “She loves being able to make a difference on the field and I think she made the decision between her freshman and sophomore year to put a lot of time and energy into this sport. She’s done that every off-season and she brings her game back better every season.”

As a sophomore, Cavallo ranked third for the Raiders with 56 goals and 16 assists and last season, behind Dunphey, she totaled 73 goals and eight assists. With a couple of regular season games left and the postseason ahead of her, Cavallo has compiled 58 goals and 18 assists, putting her on pace to set a new career high in points. She now has 191 goals and 42 assists for her four-year career.

But scoring isn’t the only way Cavallo affects the way Hillsborough plays. Following a 13-9 loss to Bridgewater-Raritan Tuesday – a game in which Cavallo scored five goals and added an assist – she spoke to how she’s grown into a leader on the field.

“Today, for example, is a tough loss, but as a leader on the field, everyone looks toward you, like ‘how is she going to react?’ So if I react to something in a negative way, they’re going to get down too,” Cavallo said. “I just try to encourage everyone to stay positive and keep it up and I always tell them to forget about the past, you can’t change that play, but you can change what happens next.”

What’s next for Cavallo, following the postseason run with Hillsborough, is a college career at Towson University. She said that she’s thought about moving onto the next level, but that her performance this year is directly tied into the college ranks.

“Now that I’m a senior, I’ve seen some teammates that are in their last year and they’re thinking about just going to college, but me, I think about I’m going to play next year and everything I do now is going to affect what I do next year at Towson,” she said.

Ridge pulls off shocking upset at sectional track event

Heading into Saturday’s NJSIAA North 2 Group IV meet at Toms River’s Bennett Center, the Ridge High School girls track and field team knew that they had a chance to do something special.

Head coach Tim Mooney said that his group had a good feeling going into the meet, knowing that on any given day, the Red Devils could score in a majority of the events.

Despite recording just one first-place finish, Ridge shocked national-power Columbia and took home the team title, with 76 points to Columbia’s 73. Catharine Wain won Ridge’s only gold medal on the day, clearing 10-0 on the pole vault, in her first meet since injuring her ankle prior to the Skyland Conference meet in late January.

“On a given day, we felt that we could score in eight of the 10 events, and we ended up scoring in 7 of 10 on Saturday,” Mooney said. “We figured there was a good 10-point gap that we’d have to close between us and Columbia, but we did it together and this was a great team effort all around.”

In the distance events, Ridge gave itself a bit of hope, taking second and fourth place in the 800-meter with sisters Sarah and Sophie Spring earning key points. Sarah Spring crossed in 5:21.41 and Sophie was about four and a half seconds behind at 5:25.94.

In the second-to-last race of the meet, the 3,200 meters, Ridge once again placed multiple runners in scoring positions, earning second, third and fourth spots. Sarah Spring (11:53.44), Regan Asay (11:56.24) and Sophie Spring (11:56.61) earned key points before the 4×400-meter relay.

“The 3,200 is the tougher of the distance races, because it’s at the end of the day,” Mooney said. “It’s the last one before 4×400 and we had to kind of close the gap before that relay. It was actually Sophie’s first two-miler of her career and Ragen was struggling throughout that race; I think she was as far back as 10th, but she worked her way up and got us some big points.”

Even though Columbia won the 4×400 with a time of 3:57.45, Ridge’s fifth-place finish of 4:08.62 was enough to earn the team title. The quartet of Kelly Van Baalen, Kelly Corley, Abigail Regner and Shaye McCoy closed out the meet with a solid run, according to McCoy.

“When we were warming up, we got into a huddle and I reminded the girls that we wanted it more than any of the other teams,” McCoy said. “We were seeded ninth, but when I got running, I was thinking about my teammates and how well they ran and I couldn’t give up. I was so excited that we came in fifth and ultimately won the team title.”

McCoy, one of the captains for Ridge, said that coming into the meet as an underdog to Columbia helped the mentality of the squad throughout.

“We just showed how much commitment we have for Ridge; I told my friends after the meet that this is the proudest I’ve ever been as a captain and I’m so excited for what we accomplished.”

The field events were where Ridge really took control, earning top-3 finishes in the high jump, pole vault and shot put. Sarah Phinney finished second behind Wain in the pole vault, clearing 9-6, and freshman Jessica Creedon (5-2) and senior Alissa Laham (4-8) finished second and third respectively on the high jump, with Creedon’s mark coming as a personal record. Nicole Grabowski rounded out the field portion of the meet for Ridge with a second place finish in the shot put, tossing a 36-1.00.

“We knew we could score in the field events, but coming up with seconds and third was better than fourths and fifths,” Mooney said.

J.P. Stevens boys track team takes first sectional crown

Behind the strong performances from seniors Mark Cooke and Jaashir Morris, the J.P. Stevens High School boys track and field team won its first indoor sectional title Saturday afternoon.

The Hawks edged Franklin 58-49 for the crown at Toms River’s Bennett Center, as Cooke and Morris earned first-place medals in the 55-meter hurdles and 400-meter dash, respectively.

For head coach Dave Martinez, seeing his squad perform as well as they did was something he’ll remember forever.

“This is great to be a part of. These are some of the most talented kids I’ve ever had and it’s just so exciting to see it all pay off for them,” Martinez said.

In the 55-meter hurdles, Cooke won with a time of 7.79 seconds and Morris was right on his heels, crossing the finish line in 7.82, giving J.P. Stevens big points early on in the meet. Cooke rounded out his day with a third-place finish in the 55-meter dash, with a time of 6.73 seconds.

“I would never put anything past Mark for what he is capable of accomplishing,” Martinez said. “The 55-meter dash was the biggest race for us, because we knew we’d do well in the other races, but to get a third place finish from Mark in that one was huge. The 55-dash isn’t a race we normally compete in, but Mark came up to me before it started and asked if he could enter it and I thought that was a great idea. It ended up working out well for us.”

Martinez said that having Cooke and Morris finish 1-2 in the 55-hurdles was a surprise, noting that it was Cooke’s best hurdles race of the season.

The two classmates traded positions on the podium in the 400 meters, as Morris came in first at 50.18 seconds, with Cooke right on his heels, finishing in 50.46.

“Jaashir set the tone for the whole meet in the 400 and I think it was a really smart race for him,” Martinez said. “He’s been one of our elite runners for three years now and it was great to see him win that race.”

The two teamed up in the meet’s final event, as Cooke ran the opening leg and Morris ran anchor in the 4×400-meter relay. J.P. Stevens finished fifth, as Jose Delli Paoli and Aaron John ran the middle legs, with a time of 3:34.59. Even though Franklin won the 4×400, J.P. Stevens had accumulated enough points throughout the meet to remain on top.

Panth Patel gave the Hawks a solid day in the distance events, coming in second in the 1,600 meters (4:30.39) and third in the 3,200 meters (9:46.17).

“I’m very proud of Panth; he ran very tough and it was the first time all season he pulled that double. We needed every point we could get and if he ran well in both of those events, we knew we’d be in a good spot,” Martinez said. “We’ve never had three great athletes on the team at the same time, but we do now, with Mark, Jaashir and Panth. We’ve had two great runners at a time, but never three. That’s why I’ll remember this team forever.”

Carlson excited to play for U.S. Olympic team

Like many American hockey fans, Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson watched the NHL Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. But, unlike most Americans, Carlson heard his name called as one of the 25 members of the 2014 United States Olympic Men’s Hockey Team following the contest on NBC. And when he heard it on his TV that afternoon, Carlson’s reaction was priceless.

“They didn’t tell us before the announcement, so I was watching like everybody else and I was really nervous,” Carlson said. “It was an awesome result, but man, was it nerve-racking for me, watching it at home.”

Carlson, who lived with his family in Colonia and played for one season at St. Joseph (Met.), scored 12 goals and 19 points for the Falcons. After the 2004-05 season, Carlson focused solely on junior hockey with the New Jersey Rockets, before heading to the Indiana Ice of the United States Hockey League in 2007-08. After a strong showing with the Ice – 12 goals, 31 assists – the Capitals selected Carlson with the 27th overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He made his debut on Nov. 21, 2009 and has been a constant force on the Washington blue line since.

“He’s a winner everywhere he went. He stayed one year with us; I wish he could have stayed for four, but you can understand why he moved on,” former St. Joseph head coach Pete Kolodney said. “He had the talent and he was above the norm. He’s clearly made the most of his opportunity since getting to Washington. Sometimes I can’t believe it when I see him in interviews. So to this day, it’s hard to believe and personally, I was only a small part of his development and he was blessed with skills and size. He’s made the most of it.”

Kolodney, who coached at St. Joseph from 1986-87 through the 2006-07 season, said that he knew that Carlson was something special in the 2004-05 campaign, when the Falcons went 10-9-2 and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA Tournament.

“Him being named to the Olympic team is just consistent with what John’s experiences have been,” Kolodney said. “He’s a winner; he scored the game-winner at the 2010 World Championships, and when he went to Hershey (in the American Hockey League) with the Capitals’ farm team and they won the Calder Cup. He’ll be a contributor in Sochi for the USA, for sure.”

For Team USA, Carlson, who shoots from the right side, could be paired with Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers or Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik, although he hasn’t been told with whom he’ll skate on the American blue line.

Friday night, Washington made its first of two trips to New Jersey of the season, allowing Carlson to play in front of friends and family in the Garden State. He was on the ice for more than 23 minutes and had five shots on goal in the Capitals’ 2-1 loss to the Devils. For the season, Carlson is on pace to set new career-highs in goals, assists and points, all while playing more minutes than he has at any point in his NHL career.

Making the Olympic team from of New Jersey is something that Carlson is especially proud of, knowing he’s inspired kids from all over the state to keep pushing and to never give up.

“I think it’s great for the state of New Jersey and there are so many players coming out of here now and it’s great to see. I’m happy to be on the Olympic team,” he said. “It’s good to see guys like me and James van Riemsdyk (Christian Brothers Academy) have made the team and we’re supplying a blueprint and everyone wants to be the next kid and it’s inspiring for me to be someone kids look up to like that.”

Bishop, Hughes lead way in victory

Sayreville and South Plainfield battle for the ball in their game Tuesday. Photo by: Kathy Johnson

Sayreville and South Plainfield battle for the ball in their game Tuesday. Photo by: Kathy Johnson

SOUTH PLAINFIELD — After winning the first six games of the season and racking up 33 goals in the process, the South Plainfield High School field hockey team has put the rest of the Greater Middlesex Conference on notice.

The defending GMCT champions had outscored opponents 33-4 in the season’s opening month prior to a 5-0 drubbing of Sayreville (1-2-1) Tuesday afternoon, with senior captains Jess Bishop and Shannon Hughes leading the offense.

The duo has combined for 41 points this season and both added to their totals against Sayreville in a game where the Tigers didn’t appear to have their best effort throughout much of the first half.

Bishop scored her 12th goal of the year and added two assists to give her eight for the season and Hughes scored once and assisted on two more goals to pad her totals to 12 and nine respectively. Having a pair of elite players like South Plainfield (7-0) does is quite a luxury for head coach Cheryl Hughes.

“These guys feel like they have a lot to prove because we lost 13 seniors and everybody was saying that there’s no way that South Plainfield is going to be good again,” Cheryl Hughes said. “And I think that stuck in Shannon and Jess’ mind and the other seniors on the team want to say to everybody that we can be as good and if not better than last year and they’re really striving to do that so far.”

The Tigers expect to get every team’s best shot this season and that includes the Metuchen Bulldogs (4-2), who’ll be the Tigers’ next opponent Thursday afternoon. Cheryl Hughes knows that her squad will have to play better than they did against Sayreville to remain unbeaten in the GMC.

“Today was just one of those days. They (Metuchen) have a lot of good players, Rachel (Gulotta) and Olivia (Volpe) especially, and they have been scoring left and right,” Cheryl Hughes said. “We know they can play and that they’re talented. So I told our guys that if they’re going to come out and sleepwalk again, we’re going to be in trouble. So they need to be in the right mentality for Thursday.”

But having Bishop and Shannon Hughes, along with the senior leadership of Emily Lubach should help the Tigers avoid another less than stellar start.

“We need to think on defense and shoot as much as possible and force the issue and eventually the shots will go in,” Lubach said. “We need to be smart in the midfield and play hard and smart on defense and do what we do.”

With two eight-goal games already in their pocket this season and three others with five or more goals, including Tuesday’s win over the Bombers, South Plainfield has what it takes to score with anyone in the state, including Metuchen’s duo of Gulotta and Volpe, who have teamed up for 18 points this year. The biggest challenge for the Tigers on Thursday is to come out and not expect a victory without putting in the work, according to Lubach.

“Every game isn’t going to be a walkthrough, we need to treat every game like it’s a championship and we need to go out and work for it every game we play,” she said.

Sydney Rosa an inspiration for East Brunswick

East Brunswick junior Sydney Rosa warms up before a Bears' scrimmage in August. Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan.

East Brunswick junior Sydney Rosa warms up before a Bears’ scrimmage in August. Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan.

Flash back to February 2012, when Sydney Rosa began to notice something was wrong.

“I couldn’t hear and I was getting nose bleeds all the time,” Rosa said. “I would wake up in the middle of the night and have a huge puddle of blood on my shirt and it was really gross. My mom kept taking me to the doctor and I got tubes put in my ears, but nothing really changed.”

The months passed and Rosa’s condition didn’t improve. That June, after doctors took extensive blood work from the then-East Brunswick High School freshman, the diagnosis was revealed: Rosa was suffering from Wegener’s granulomatosis, a rare disorder where blood vessels become inflamed, making it hard to breathe. Rosa was slowly losing her ability to hear and she was struggling to operate normally.

“I felt lousy at that time and it was really bad for me,” she said. “I didn’t want to get out of my bed in the morning and I had headaches a lot. I just didn’t want to go to school or anything. I missed 16 days of school last year, including eight days in the last quarter, so it really set me back. I was really out of shape.”

But the fight in Rosa’s body would not succumb to the ailment that plagued her throughout the summer, and as a sophomore for the Bears last season, she recorded 15 goals in the final 13 games, earning a first-team All-Area selection for the second time in as many years.

“She found that gear again and when she found her game, we took off,” head coach Kevin Brady said. “She’s the kid that is the heart and soul of our team.”

As the Bears were on their way to a ninth-straight Greater Middlesex Conference Red Division title, Rosa played, but didn’t register any points. She assisted on goals in consecutive games in late September, but didn’t score her first goal of the season until October 2 in a contest against Woodbridge.

“That was like my favorite moment and my favorite goal I had ever scored,” she said. “I was kind of getting really upset with myself and you could tell I was getting frustrated and when I finally scored that goal, I heard my mom screaming at the top of her lungs in the stands. It was an incredible feeling and I finally felt like I was back and ready to contribute.”

Even though she’d been playing at less than 100 percent health, Rosa wasn’t going to let that stop her from enjoying the game she loves with a team she calls her second family.

“She’s the most inspirational kid I’ve come across in all my years of coaching,” Brady said. “She recovered from something that is life-threatening and she’s a 16-year-old, bubbly girl that doesn’t want to dwell on it. She’s a living embodiment of what sports are all about and I think she’s the hardest working kid I’ve ever been around.”

Getting a healthy Rosa in the lineup was almost like adding a player at midseason, so when the GMCT began, East Brunswick entered as a serious contender. In the opening round, Rosa connected on a hat trick against Colonia and in a semifinal game against J.P. Stevens, she scored twice and assisted on another as the Bears won handily. But she was holding off on submitting her best performance of the season.

Against Piscataway in the GMCT final, Rosa scored the game-winning goal, giving her school their 27th conference championship and it’s a goal that ranks right up there on the list of her favorite moments.

“I have always wanted to have one of those moments and those goals that proves to people why I should be there,” she said. “I was just out of my mind, so excited.”

The fact she was able to score any goals at all, let alone play a sport so demanding and physically draining was cause for celebration in its own right. Without treatment, Wegener’s granulomatosis has been known to be fatal in less than a year. Because the cause is widely unknown, the fearsome disease could strike anyone at any time. But the support system that Rosa has makes every day worth fighting for.

“I seriously have the best family in the world. My mom is absolutely amazing; she misses a lot of work for me and she does it because she wants to be with me,” Rosa said. “She’s been by my side the whole time and when I had to undergo all of these surgeries, you’re not allowed to eat, so she wouldn’t eat either, because she didn’t want me to go through it on my own.”

Since undergoing multiple surgeries this past summer, Rosa has regained most of her hearing and things look bright for the future. She said she feels 100 percent healthy heading into her junior season, although she’s not in the best physical condition of her life.

“I ran a lot this summer to try and get back in the swing of things, but sometimes I can’t breathe, because my arch dropped in my nose, and it caved in, so when I breathe really fast, it stops and gets cut off. So, sometimes I can’t breathe all that well,” she said. “I think 50 percent is how you actually feel and 50 percent is more of a mental feel. I’m all there now and I don’t let it consume me and defy me. I defy it.”

Her effort and drive to beat this ailment hasn’t been lost on her teammates, most of whom didn’t know exactly what she was going through until late last season.

“I could never do what she’s gone through. She has such great strength and to see her come back from such a serious illness is insane. To have her back at full strength this year, I can’t wait,” senior Ellie DiLiberto said.

Considering the Bears were 11-0-0 when Rosa recorded at least one point last season, the feeling around the squad is that everyone is excited to have her back playing at all.

“It looked like there was a great gift that had it unfairly taken away last season, but she’s taken it back,” Brady said. “She makes me excited to go to practice every day and see her play.”

Lions’ Delia era draws to a close with Sunshine Classic

For the Delia family, football at North Hunterdon High School has been a tradition dating back to 2006. That year, Eddie Delia’s oldest brother Ted began his career with the Lions and every year since, there has been at least one Delia in uniform for North Hunterdon.

From Ted, to middle brother Jack, to Eddie, the Delia family has been as much a part of the North Hunterdon program as any in head coach John Mattes’ career.

“We’ve coached brothers before, but to have three of them excel is remarkable,” Mattes said. “They were all different, but they were all outstanding players for us. All three of them were captains at one point or another and they come from a good family that’s very supportive of the program.”

This past season, Eddie became the feature back in Mattes’ offense and excelled, much like his brothers did before him, rushing for 744 yards and eight touchdowns, earning a spot in today’s Sunshine Football Classic.

It’ll be the 16th classic played at The College of New Jersey’s Lions Stadium in Ewing.

“It’s great to be selected and I feel honored,” Eddie Delia said. “It’s a nice reward and a way to get my name out there.”

Eddie will be the second of his brothers to take the field at the Sunshine Classic, following Ted’s appearance in the 2009 edition. Ted went on to play at Gettysburg College after starring at North Hunterdon and Jack, who was a two-time state runner-up at 285 pounds on the wrestling mat in between dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, received an athletic scholarship to Lehigh University. According to Mattes, he was advised not to take part in the 2011 Sunshine Classic.

So Eddie, a running back who plans to continue his playing days at Moravian College next season, will lace up the cleats for one more high school game and it’ll be the last time a Delia wears a North Hunterdon helmet.

Having seen Ted play on the same field before him, Eddie said he will be a little bit calmer. Also helping the cause will be the four other North Hunterdon players (David Berry, Drew Dickison, Dylan Nemeth and Bradley Straight) on the roster.

“That’s definitely going to help me stay calm and relaxed and it’ll be awesome to play one last time with those guys,” Eddie Delia said. “Having my brothers around on the same team helped a lot because I got to see how to do things and what it took to be successful from them.”

Because the brothers Delia played different positions on the field, it was easy to see that they just went out and played football instead of competing with each other.

“It helped a lot growing up with them,” Eddie Delia said. “I played up with them in peewees and seeing them excel was great. All three of us had the same work ethic and it helped a lot that we didn’t play the same positions.”

Eddie said that his parents, Mike and Linda, are the ones who deserve the most praise for at least his accolades on the field. Mike, a North Hunterdon Hall of Famer, helped instill football knowledge in his youngest son and Linda helped do a lot of the driving associated with youth sports.

“I credit most of my success to my parents,” Eddie Delia said. “They drove me around to everything and my dad has a huge knowledge of what’s going on out there on the field.”

The Sunshine Classic won’t be the last time Eddie straps on his football helmet. But it will close a chapter in the Delia book at North Hunterdon that’s lasted eight seasons and saw three brothers bond over the pigskin.

Piscataway’s Cameron Nash returns to site of letdown

With the Piscataway High School football team up 33-30 and the clock ticking down on the North 2 Group V Championship Game last December at Kean University’s Alumni Field against Elizabeth, Cameron Nash needed just 2 yards to seal a state title.

The senior tailback, who had rushed for 219 yards and four touchdowns in the contest, thought he had scored on fourth down, but the Elizabeth defense stopped him just short of the goal line.

“Looking back and watching the end of that game on tape and seeing how close I was to clinching it right there makes it hurt worse and worse,” Nash said. “Knowing the game should have been over right there still stings.”

The final offensive snap was an isolation play for Nash up the middle, but he said the defensive linemen took out his legs and prevented him from leaping over the pile for the score.

“There was nowhere for me to go,” Nash said. “Before the play, I thought about jumping over the top. I wish I could have gone back and done that.”

The Minutemen took over at their own 2-yard line and proceeded to go 98 yards on just three plays, taking 39 seconds off the clock. The final play of the drive covered 49 yards as Jahad Thomas scampered down the sideline and gave Elizabeth a 37-33 lead.

Nash, who doubled as a defensive back, had cramped up and couldn’t be out there with his defensive teammates as the sectional title slipped out of reach.

“I was hoping the guys could get it done,” he said. “It was heartbreaking to lose that game the way we did; we just didn’t execute when we needed to and we let the game get away from us.”

Nash will get a chance to take out some revenge for that loss on the very same field tonight, as he’ll suit up for the South team in the North-South All-Star Football Classic. The game kicks off at 7 p.m.

“Walking on the field again will bring back memories and it’ll be a positive thing,” Nash said. “I hope to continue on success from that game. But this time, I want to win the game.”

It was not only one game’s worth of success for the West Virginia-bound Nash in 2012, as he racked up the seventh-most rushing yards in a single season in Piscataway history with 1,230 to go along with 17 touchdowns. It was just his first season playing for the Chiefs, after spending his previous three seasons in Delaware. Prior to the 2012 season, Nash and his family moved back to New Jersey and he immediately meshed with the Chiefs.

“I wish I had him for more than a year, that’s for sure,” Piscataway head coach Dan Higgins said. “I was truly amazed with how he blended in with the program. He was a perfect fit for us.”

Nash helped the Chiefs to an 8-3 record, and the team set records for offensive yards for the season and rushing yards per game. Nash said he’s spoken to former Piscataway standout and current New Orleans Saints defensive back Malcolm Jenkins for advice in playing in an All-Star Game.

“Malcolm (Jenkins) told me to have fun out there and play my game,” Nash said. “And I also talked to my brother and he just said to enjoy the experience.”

North Brunswick building a contender

North Brunswick's Jon Lin in a 2012 contest.

North Brunswick’s Jon Lin in a 2012 contest.

Over the last few years, the North Brunswick High School boys volleyball team has been building itself into a contender in the Greater Middlesex Conference.

Through eight matches this season, the Raiders have the looks of a squad ready to take that next step.

North Brunswick sits atop the GMC White Division with an 8-0 record through Wednesday, dropping just one set in those matches and outscoring opponents 434-282 in the process.

Leading the way are two seniors — Jon Lin and Rohan Chittella — both of whom have played a lot of volleyball in the last 12 months.

Lin, the Raiders’ primary setter, and Chittella, one of the the team’s outside hitters, have been putting up big numbers since the season kicked off three weeks ago. Lin has racked up 178 assists, good for an average of just over 22 per contest, and Chittella’s 95 kills are tops on the squad.

“Jon and Rohan played full club seasons this year and they played on a team with a lot of the East Brunswick players,” North Brunswick coach Jim Biolsi said. “They gained a lot of exposure from that club season and they have improved greatly from last season. Rohan has great ability to terminate the ball to get kills for us out there.”

Chittella and Lin are two of just three seniors on the Raiders’ roster, the other being Ryan Lehnau. Biolsi says that only graduating two seniors from last year’s squad has helped the current roster exponentially.

“We gained a lot of experience last year and our guys are a lot more capable of dealing with pressure situations and making adjustments in a match,” he said.

One of the big reasons for North Brunswick’s hot start is the ability to serve well and take opponents out of their game plans. Biolsi said his team doesn’t have one go-to server, but instead utilizes the entire roster to float-serve and knuckle the ball over the net.

“Our serving has been very effective and it’s been a team effort,” he said. “We’re not very big and we don’t score a lot through blocks, but we get a lot of aces and we’re forcing a lot of teams to play more defense against us. We try and cause a lot of chaos on the other side of the net when we’re playing. If we serve well, they don’t have their setter hitting it from the ideal position and we’re able to get a lot of blocks up and that’s a big reason as to why we have such a big point disparity.”

Even though the Raiders have put together a solid three weeks, Biolsi knows that tougher days await, starting with Saturday’s matchup against East Brunswick, one of the state’s premier programs and a GMC rival.

“We need to get a measuring stick as to where we stand,” Biolsi said. “We had a tough scrimmage season, and we did pretty well in those contests, but here in the regular season we’re going through the conference schedule and we want see how we do against good teams.”

In order to achieve some of their goals for this season, which include winning the GMC Tournament and hosting the school’s first state tournament game, Biolsi stressed that the Raiders need to continue doing what they’re doing.

“We play a lot of ball control and play fast,” he said. “We need to be quicker and faster and have a good amount of ball control to compete with the bigger schools. That’s the formula that’s been successful for us.”

 

Hillsborough still searching for respect

The Hillsborough boys volleyball team gathers during a recent scrimmage. Photo by: Kathy Johnson

The Hillsborough boys volleyball team gathers during a recent scrimmage. Photo by: Kathy Johnson

For the Hillsborough High School boys volleyball team, 2013 is all about maintaining the status quo.

The Raiders have won four of the last five Skyland Conference regular season titles and they’ve been among the best teams in the state over that period, but according to head coach Todd Sudol, Hillsborough isn’t getting the credit they deserve state-wide.

“We want to be taken seriously state-wide,” Sudol said. “We have eight seniors this year and we have a lot of kids that take this game seriously. I think this could be a big year for Hillsborough.”

One reason for optimism is the fact that Sudol has eight seniors on his roster, including setter Joey DeLuca, who was second in the state last season with 809 assists. Tim Erdman, one of the team’s outside hitters, had 356 digs last year and Alex Duncan leads a strong front line defense. Duncan registered a team-best 40 blocks in 2012.

“The talent of the guys we have is awesome,” Sudol said. “We’re known for our athleticism around here and the fact that most of these guys didn’t play volleyball before high school is pretty cool. I give them a lot of credit for putting the time in to get great and have these lofty goals.”

Some of those goals include staying at the top of the Skyland Conference, finishing in the top 10 in the state polls and maintaining status as an elite program.

“Hillsborough boys volleyball is a young program,” Sudol said. “This is only our ninth season of competition, but the kids have established themselves as one of the best in the state. We always want to equal or do better than we did last year.

“We’ve been able to establish some tradition in the short amount of time we’ve had a program,” Sudol said. “The guys who we have graduated come back and work with the current players and we just want to keep pushing the future of Hillsborough volleyball. We want to make sure that what they established stays here and continues to grow. I’m fortunate as a coach that the players have the drive to be great and it’s a nice atmosphere to coach in.”

The team-first attitude that Sudol praises will be put to the test in the season’s opening week. The Raiders will play on four of the first five days of the season, including the invitational they’re set to host on April 6. Their first three matches are against Watchung Hills, Cinnaminson and Ridge.