Southern Regional Boys Volleyball Team Snags 10th Straight State Sectional Crown

Jun 06, 2018
Photo by: David Biggy The Southern Regional boys volleyball team captured its 10th straight NJSIAA sectional championship on June 1 with a 25-22, 25-22 victory over Williamstown.

No matter where the Southern Regional High School boys volleyball team goes, every opponent on the other side of the net has a laser focused on Eric Maxwell’s squad. And at this time of the season, the targets on the Rams’ backs are at their largest.

“We go to other schools or tournaments and everybody is cheering against us,” said senior Shane Bent, who on June 1 led the way with nine kills and four big blocks to help give Southern a 25-22, 25-22 win over Williamstown in the NJSIAA South Jersey tournament championship. “But that stuff doesn’t bother us. It gets us fired up.”

The third-seeded Braves last Friday not only brought their best to the court, they also had half of the Southern gym full of fans, including a large student section. Still, the top-seeded Rams (37-4) met the challenge and pulled through.

“We like the pressure,” said senior libero Matt Jones, who tallied 12 digs and delivered one of the Rams’ two aces. “We know everybody wants to beat us, but that motivates us.”

Southern jumped out to a 6-2 lead in the first game only to see it disappear 14 points later. After a Williamstown service error, the Rams held a 15-14 lead and scored twice to push the gap to three points.

However, the Braves stayed close, still within two points at 20-18. Southern scored the next two and finished off from there, as Arvind Kumar banged down a kill – one of his seven for the contest – to make it 23-19, and Bent moments later sealed the first-game win with a kill.

In the second game, Williamstown got out to a 3-0 lead and built up the margin to six points, 13-7, before Bent came up with a huge block in the middle to trim the lead back to five. That’s when the Rams made their move, scoring 11 of the next 13 points.

Junior Zach Hem helped push the rally with a kill to make it 14-10, before a Williamstown hitting error made it a three-point contest. With the Braves’ lead at 15-13, a Matt Maxwell dump shot found the floor and Hem followed with another kill – one of his eight for the match – to tie the game. Another Williamstown hitting error gave the Rams the lead, and junior Anthony LeBlanc added to the lead with one of his three kills.

After senior Mike Andriani scored the Rams’ second ace of the match to make it 20-17, Kumar fired a kill through the middle of the defense to put his team four points from a 10th straight sectional title. The Braves worked back to within one point, 22-21, of the Rams, but two more errors from Williamstown made it 24-21. Two points later, Bent made a double-handed block on Brandon Pryzwara for the win.

“I just do my best to put points on the board and get everybody excited,” Bent said. “We came into the match knowing we’re a great team. But we know we have to be on our game no matter who we play.”

The Rams were on their game again June 5, as they knocked off North Section I champ Bayonne, 25-20, 25-13, in one of two state semifinal clashes to reach the final for a 10th straight season. Bent again was one of the go-to guys, delivering six kills, while Kumar recorded six kills and three blocks. Maxwell gave out 22 assists, Jones and Andriani mustered 12 and 11 digs, respectively, and LeBlanc had three kills and two blocks.

Last season, Southern bounced Fair Lawn to win a second straight state crown, and will go for the three-peat against Central champ Old Bridge (31-5), which ousted the Cutters in the other semifinal Tuesday night.

“It’s all about getting to the championship match,” Jones said. “It doesn’t matter how we get there, as long as we get there. We just have to play our game and play hard for every point. If we do that, we’re going to win.”

Of course, the four losses during the regular season don’t hurt the Rams one bit. In fact, the coach prefers it that way.

“We’ve lost four matches, so obviously we can beaten,” Maxwell said. “But I wouldn’t want to be undefeated right now. Having some losses keeps our guys guarded, knowing that if the right team shows up and plays its best, we can lose. Our guys have to play their best at this point in the season, and they know that.”

— David Biggy

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