Southern Boys Volleyball Team Keeps Dynasty Alive, Captures 6th State Championship

By DAVID BIGGY | Jun 08, 2017
Photo by: David Biggy The Southern Regional boys volleyball team won its sixth NJSIAA state championship in nine seasons when the Rams knocked off Fair Lawn, 25-13, 25-18, on June 7.

By now, anybody who follows the Southern Regional boys volleyball program probably doesn’t wonder at the beginning of a season whether head coach Eric Maxwell’s squad will reach the state championship match. Instead, it’s just a matter of whether the Rams will win it.

Well, their dynasty continued on Thursday, June 8.

With Southern holding match point, sophomore outside hitter Zach Hem hammered a ball off a Fair Lawn blocker and yet another celebration was on, as the Rams ousted the Cutters in two games, 25-13, 25-18, to capture their sixth NJSIAA state crown in nine seasons.

“It gets better every time,” said senior setter Brennan Davis, who has been part of three of the Rams’ championship squads. “This might be the most special one because I’m a senior and it’s our second in a row. We were dominant.”

After receiving a big three-game scare from Bridgewater-Raritan in the semifinals, the Rams regrouped and refocused during practice on Wednesday. And while Fair Lawn (28-9) presented a challenge early on in the first game Thursday, Southern overcame a little tightness and pushed on the gas pedal.

“Tuesday scared us because all the hard work we put in this season almost fell through our hands,” said Davis, who finished with 26 assists, 11 service points, nine digs and four kills. “We had to step up our game, and today when we got those leads we held on tight.”

Southern (39-1) jumped out to a 11-7 lead in the first game when Davis blocked a hit attempt and forced Fair Lawn to take a timeout. It didn’t help much, as the Rams maintained their four-point lead, 15-11, during the next eight points. Southern then went on an 8-0 run, which included several kills and a block by junior Shane Bent, to make it 23-11, before senior Collin Lockwood finished off the first game with a kill.

“Our passing tonight was great,” said Bent, who ended with team-high 12 kills, two blocks and a pair of digs. “We had to keep up the energy, be confident and play our game. We came here to win and we did everything we had to do.”

In the second game, the Cutters put up more of a fight, keeping it close through the first 32 points and tied the match, 16-16, with a block on a hit attempt by Hem, who had six kills.

“This was my first time playing in the state finals, so I was a little nervous out there,” Hem said. “Fair Lawn’s a good team and they put pressure on us in the second game. But we just had to keep getting points, and our back row did a great job of not letting the ball hit the floor.”

After Hem delivered on a kill to make it 17-16, he then came up with his only block of the match to push the lead to two points. With another smash to the middle of the court, Bent made it 19-16, and then junior Isaiah Gaines, who only entered the match to serve, delivered a staggering blow to Fair Lawn – an ace that dropped down between two Cutters just inside the back line.

Hem made it 21-16 with a drop shot to the right side and Fair Lawn called a timeout in an attempt to stop the bleeding. The Cutters managed to get the ball to fall on an attempted block by Davis, but the momentum never shifted, as a touch error by the Cutters gave Southern a 22-17 lead.

At that point, the electricity built inside the South Brunswick High School gym and several Rams held up three fingers to indicate how many points they needed to close out the match.

“We weren’t letting up on them,” Bent said. “We were here to win and we wanted to bury them right there. We weren’t going to let them back in it. We just had to keep pushing.”

After Bent hammered down his last kill of the contest, a Fair Lawn hit attempt sailed out of bounds to give Southern match point at 24-17. The Cutters managed to grab one last point before Hem soared along the left side and pounded the ball off the chest of an opposing blocker for the state crown.

Sophomore Matt Maxwell finished with eight digs, five assists and a pair of service points, while junior Sam Iacoves had nine digs, five service points and two assists. Senior Jay Boehler added two kills and senior Shane Drayton contributed a kill, a block and a dig.

“I couldn’t be better right now,” said Lockwood, who ended with nine kills and five digs. “It’s hard to believe. When I started playing as a sophomore, I had no idea I would be part of a team with back-to-back state championships. But that’s the expectation of our program – not just to make it the final match, but to win it.”

The Rams’ first state title came in 2009 and was followed up with their second in 2010. In 2011 and 2012, Fair Lawn won back-to-back titles against Southern, which then won back-to-back championships in 2013 and 2014. After Bridgewater-Raritan beat Southern in 2014, the Rams bounced back last year with their fifth state title.

“On the bus ride home, we’re already going to start talking about being back next year,” said Lockwood, who along with the rest of the seniors graduates on Monday. “And even though I won’t be playing here anymore, I’ll be in the seats cheering for them. And there’s no reason why these guys can’t get back here and win it again. This is what it’s about, getting here and winning. That’s why we work as hard as we do.”

biggy@thesandpaper.net

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