Southern Regional Boys Volleyball Team Suffers First Loss of Season

May 17, 2017

Eric Maxwell, the head coach of the Southern Regional High School boys volleyball team, has been saying for years that he fears going into the state playoffs with an undefeated team. It happened once in his career, he says, and that squad got knocked off in the semifinal round. A loss, he claims, makes his players shed any hint of overconfidence and work harder to claim their ultimate goal, a state championship. His train of thought has roared on down the track considering his team has appeared in the state championship match after suffering at least one loss for the last eight years, claiming five crowns including the 2016 title.

Well, Maxwell got his loss just in the nick of time this season.

The Rams, ranked first in the state, visited St. Joseph of Metuchen on Saturday to play in the Super Six Showcase, New Jersey’s premier regular-season high school boys volleyball showdown. They beat a fourth-ranked Christian Brothers squad 25-17, 25-19; Bridgewater-Raritan, ranked fifth, 25-21, 25-17; and the ninth-ranked home team 25-18, 25-15, to run their 2017 record to 30-0.

Southern’s final match of the day was against Hunterdon Central, ranked second in the state and also, at 19-0, undefeated. If the Rams won, there was a good chance they’d enter the state tourney without a blemish. After all, Southern is seeded at the top of this week’s Shore Conference Tournament while Christian Brothers is the two-seed. The Rams, you see, have beaten the Colts in straight sets three times this season, meaning CBA would practically need a miracle to pull off a win in an almost-certain Shore Conference final.

Well, Hunterdon’s Red Devils slapped the Rams with the first loss of their campaign, 25-21, 30-28, despite the typical scoring of Southern’s twin guns Collin Lockwood and Shane Bent, who recorded 10 and nine kills respectively; the 26-assist performance of setter Brennan Davis; and libero Matt Maxwell’s 11 digs.

Maxwell’s theory of moving beyond the semifinals thanks to a loss may well be tested this season. If his team makes it that far and Hunterdon Central does, as well, they’ll meet in a penultimate match instead of the championship clash. That’s because the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s schedule calls for the South Jersey champs to meet the Central Jersey titleholders in this year’s semis. Southern, obviously, plays in the South Jersey Tournament; HC is a Central Jersey team.

But first there will be the Shore Conference Tournament. Southern’s fans will get only one chance to see their heroes play at home in the tourney. As the one-seed in the 12-team competition, the Rams will get a first-round bye. That means they won’t play until Wednesday afternoon, May 17, when they’ll host the winner of a contest between Wall and Red Bank Catholic, the eight- and nine-seeds respectively, in a quarterfinal match. Both the semis and championship match will then be played at a predetermined neutral location, Lakewood’s Georgian Court University, on Friday, May 19.

The Rams, the defending Shore Conference champs, have easily handled the Colts this spring. But if a miracle was to happen and an upset occur, could a team have a more appropriate name than Christian Brothers?

— Rick Mellerup

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