Stafford Leader

Don’t Bet Against Southern for NJ Volleyball Champs Again

Spring Sports Preview
By RICK MELLERUP | Apr 13, 2018

The Southern Regional High School boys volleyball team won its sixth state title last year, the fourth in five years, and played in its ninth straight state championship match.

But the 2018 team lost setter Brennan Davis, the 2017 New Jersey Player of the Year, to graduation. Can it possibly return to the title match, to say nothing about winning it?

Of course it can. The program has lost superstars/team leaders before such as Mike Gesicki and Liam Maxwell. And those losses hardly slowed the Rams down. Remember – nine straight appearances in the match for all the marbles!

“Expectations will not change,” said 18-year head coach Eric Maxwell. “It’s all about the post season and being ready to make a run when it matters most. Goal is to win the state title, as it always is.”

Maxwell has plenty of impressive weapons coming back this season, including senior Shane Bent, a 1st Team All-State middle who had 243 kills and 83 blocks last year; junior outside Zach Hem, responsible for 167 kills in 2017; and senior defensive specialists Matt Jones (104 digs and 39 aces) and Sam Iacoves (135 digs). Toss in key newcomers like seniors Arvind Kumar (rightside), who, Maxwell said, boasts a “great all-around game,” is a “tremendous attacker,” has a “strong lefty arm swing,” “passes extremely well,” is a “solid blocker” and “will be one of the best all-around players in the state.” Then adding seniors Dan Maurus (outside hitter), Isaiah Gaines (outside hitter), Joe Exel (middle), Bailey Otto (setter), Aug Gugliemini (outside hitter) and Mike Andriani (defensive specialist); along with junior middles Drew Wilgus and Anthony LeBlanc, and Southern will have yet another potent lineup. Loaded? Yeah, for bear!

Oh, we almost forgot Maxwell’s son Matt, a junior who was a 2nd Team All-State libero in his sophomore season after racking up 388 digs.

The younger Maxwell will be playing a different position this year, trying to fill Davis’ shoes at setter.

“We couldn’t have asked for more from Brennan in his four years here at Southern,” said the elder Maxwell. “But we have to move on. And I couldn’t be more confident in the ability of Matt to take over for one of his best friends. Matt has been around this game for years (it is easy to imagine him sleeping with a volleyball in his crib) and understands it as well as anyone his age. And no one has a desire to succeed and compete as much as he does. We will be moving him from his libero position over to setter.

“Matt got a good jumpstart in this transition by stepping in as the setter for our club team (Southern Ocean Volleyball Club) over the past few months. He is ready to handle this responsibility.”

Indeed, on April 7 Matt recorded his 900th career dig in a match against Donovan Catholic. Rob Solorzano, who graduated in 2010, is the all-time Southern leader with 941. Considering Maxwell is in the Class of 2019, it would be pretty safe – no, make that really safe – to predict he’ll overtake Solorzano.

Coach Maxwell isn’t the only person who thinks the Rams have a great chance of repeating as state champs. The team was on top of’s preseason Top 20 list and remained there after the first week of action, thanks to going 4-0 and not losing a single set. And, as usual with Southern, which plays as tough a schedule as Maxwell can assemble every year, the Rams weren’t just beating cans of corn but some highly ranked teams such as 4th-ranked Hillsborough and 12th-ranked St. Joseph Metuchen.

It is easy to imagine an auctioneer performing a rap about the Southern Regional boys volleyball team and its state titles: “I’ve got five, I’ve got five, do I hear six, six, there it is, six, do I hear seven…”

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