Southern Regional Volleyball Team Claims Eighth South Jersey Title

Only Two Wins Away From Sixth State Championship
Jun 07, 2017
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

The Southern Regional High School boys volleyball team won its eighth straight New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association South Jersey boys volleyball title on Friday. The Rams, the South Jersey tourney’s top seed, had no trouble at all beating second-seeded Pennsauken, 25-12, 25-17.

Pennsauken is a good team. The Indians, ranked eighth in the state, came into their match against Southern with a 29-3 record. But they looked like a JV squad against the Rams, now 37-1.

Senior setter Brennan Davis picked the quick but overwhelmed Pennsauken defense apart like a cheap sweater, distributing the ball so well that the Indians had no idea where the next kill attempt was going to come from. Junior middle Shane Bent led his team in kills with eight. But when Pennsauken tried to stop Bent, they left themselves open to attacks on the wings – sophomore outside hitter Zach Hem recorded seven kills while senior right side Collin Lockwood added four, as well as a dozen service points including three aces. Joining in the fun were senior right side Jay Boehler and senior middle Shane Drayton, who both added three kills. And when Davis wasn’t racking up assists – he ended with 25 – he was scoring himself with three kills and four service points, including an ace. Junior defensive specialist Matt Jones contributed eight service points, including an ace, and six digs; sophomore libero Matt Maxwell had seven digs. Junior defensive specialist Sam Iacoves chipped in with four digs and two service points.

This reporter has been covering the Southern boys volleyball program since its very first year and can’t remember a more balanced team in terms of scoring. He also, like Pennsauken, couldn’t detect a single weakness in Southern’s defense, which simply refuses to allow a kill attempt to reach the floor. Indeed, the 2017 Rams squad may be the best Southern team in history, and that’s saying something considering coach Eric Maxwell’s charges reached the state championship match in each of the last eight years, winning the ultimate prize five times, including in 2016.

Maxwell, when questioned, almost agreed that this was his best team ever. But he stopped just short of saying so.

No wonder. His team still has to win two more matches to defend its state championship, so he didn’t want to speak too quickly. And his squad, though balanced, doesn’t have an unstoppable force at the net such as his nephew Liam, last year’s Player of the Year, or Mike Gesicki, who won the same honor in 2014 and is currently a star tight end at Penn State.

Still, Maxwell admitted his team is the deepest he’s ever coached. And as Davis walked by, the coach quickly pointed him out and said, “He is doing an incredible job.” Indeed, if Southern does go all the way, Davis is the safe bet for 2017 Player of the Year honors.

Southern’s next opponent will be a familiar one, Bridgewater-Raritan. The Panthers, ranked second in the state, pulled off a tough 16-25, 25-19, 26-24 win over J.P. Stevens on Friday to claim the Central Jersey title and run their record to 23-7. The teams were set to clash at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday at South Brunswick High School, too late for results to be published in this edition of The SandPaper.

Southern has won the boys volleyball state championship three out of the last four years. Its only loss in the title match over that time period was in 2015, to B-R, 22-25, 12-25. Revenge would be sweet!

Bridgewater-Raritan was bounced in the Central Jersey semifinal round last year. The Panthers had a rocky road in this Central Jersey tournament as well, having to play three sets against Christian Brothers in the quarterfinals, Hillsborough in the semis and J.P. Stevens in the title match. The Rams, meanwhile, didn’t drop a single set in either the Shore Conference Tournament or the South Jersey dance.

Southern prevailed fairly easily when the teams met for the only time this year in the Super Six Showcase on May 13, winning 25-21, 25-17.

Speaking of revenge, the Rams won’t be able to exact it against the only team that beat them this year, Hunterdon Central. The Red Devils, the top seed in the Central Jersey tourney, were bedeviled by Hillsborough, the eighth-seed, 22-25, 25-16, 25-17 in their quarterfinal match.

If the Rams get by Bridgewater-Raritan, they might meet another familiar foe, North Jersey Section 1 champions Fair Lawn. Remember, Southern has five state titles under its belt. The first two came in 2009 and 2010. Fair Lawn beat the Rams in the championship match in 2011 and 2012.

Of course Fair Lawn, now 27-8, will have to get by the North Jersey Section 2 kings, Ridge, 18-9, in the semis.

Southern bounced Fair Lawn 25-21, 25-9 in their only meeting of 2017, at Fair Lawn no less. The Rams have not faced Ridge.

The state championship match will be played on Thursday, June 8, at South Brunswick.

— Rick Mellerup

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