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Cougars look to hold onto A North volleyball title

By Tim Morris

A year after winning the Shore Conference A North Division championship, the Colts Neck High School boys volleyball team is looking for more.

Head coach Glenn Jansen has a team he thinks could be one of the top two or three in the Shore Conference and a potential top 20 team in the state.

The reason for such optimism is the talent on the club, led by two college-bound standouts — Spencer Matthews and Lucas Inglis — and the team’s overall balance. In going 17-7 last year, Jansen remarked that the Cougars’ strength was how strong they were all around. They did not rely on any one play to carry the team.

Matthews — the younger brother of former Cougars all-state star Alistar Matthews, who went on to a fine college career at Springfield College — has left his mark on the Colts Neck program as well. Jansen said that Matthews is one of the strongest hitters and servers in the Shore. He had 130 kills and 84 aces in 2015. He’s committed to Alvernia University to continue his academic and volleyball careers.

Inglis, a setter, is coming off a season in which he had 447 assists.

“He will be one of the top setters in the Shore,” Jansen said.

Inglis has committed to Ramapo College.

Senior Luke Lallo (middle) and junior Nick Panicali (outside) are also cornerstones of the Cougars. Lallo had 49 blocks and 80 kills last year, while Panicali had 77 kills.

The important newcomers are seniors Jordan Kemp (libero), Anthony Guarino (right side), Devin Clementi (middle) and Gavin Foo (outside); juniors Michael Lagana (middle) and Ezekiel Sanchez (middle); sophomore Andrew Finnegan (outside); and freshman Timmy Wu (libero).

Jansen said the Cougars’ goals are to win A North, advance to the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals and make a deep run in the state sectional (Central Jersey) tournament.

The Cougars have started the season 3-1, with the lone loss to non-public A North rival Christian Brothers Academy (CBA).

Thus far, Inglis has 67 assists, Panicali has 28 kills and Matthews has 21 kills. Kemp leads the team with 10 digs.

With the team’s first win of the season — 2-0 over Central Regional High School — Jansen registered his 150th career victory at Colts Neck. He’s been at the helm for 14 years.

The Cougars are 1-1 in A North play and faced division foe Long Branch High School April 12 before meeting Howell High School April 16 in an important early-season clash. Both matches are home.

Howell

Howell, which has had a winning tradition of its own (won A North in 2014), s poised to take on the Cougars for the top spot. The Rebels have experience and a dominant player in Kyle Bosko, who broke the school record for blocks in a season in 2015 when Howell went 11-8 and challenged CBA and Colts Neck for the division title.

Head coach Ryan Fredrickson said that along with Bosko, outside hitter Brian Downey is the go-to hitter and libero Matvie Nikishin worked hard in the offseason to become a great defensive player. Nikishin is a sophomore, while and Downey is a junior.

Seniors Ryan Goodwin, Matt Kittell, Matt Lynn and Dan Mato; juniors Kyle Davis, Sam Floyd and Dylan Jensen; and sophomore Connor Cusick complete the 2016 Rebels.

Howell is 2-0 overall and 1-0 in A North with a 2-1 win over Marlboro High School.

In Howell’s victory over Marlboro, Floyd had 20 assists, Nikishin had 15 digs and Downey had 10 kills.

Marlboro

Margie McNamara may have retired as Marlboro’s head coach, but the goals for the program she turned into one of the Shore’s most successful remain the same.

“The expectations for the season are to compete in the division and the conference,” new head coach Keith Masi said.

Marlboro has five returnees back, including solid middle hitter Mike Jastrzebski, who is a senior.

Seniors Sam Golden (middle) and Asher Kantor (opposite) and juniors Jared Billig (outside) and Chris O’Hanley (libero) round out the returnees.

The newcomers include senior Adam Litsky (libero), junior Varazdat Topuzyan (outside), sophomore Dan Melamed (libero) and freshman Chris Dinh (setter).

Marlboro lost its first match of the season to Howell.

Freehold

At Freehold High School, head coach Ryan Walkiewicz wants to make history.

“Our goal is to win enough games to get into the Shore Conference and state tournaments for the first time in school history,” the Colonials’ head coach said.

They are off to a good start at 2-0.

“We plan to be competitive in A North,” Walkiewicz said. “We are a young team with only one senior on the roster, so we are continuing to build and improve.”

Outside hitter Harry Biddle is the lone senior on the Colonials.

Freehold looks to a big junior class in its bid for history. The junior class has Joe Elias (middle), Ryan Bothmann (opposite), Collin Bertscha (opposite), Joe Krauss (middle), Tom McDonald (middle), Matt Fulciniti (opposite), Justice Jubilee (setter) and Vijay Para (libero).

Sophomores on the team are Justin Krauss (libero) and Dan Cutaneo (opposite).

In the Colonials’ first two wins — 2-0 over Long Branch and Red Bank Catholic High School — Biddle has 15 kills and 10 service points. Jubilee has 26 assists, and Bertscha has the most service points with nine.

Cutaneo has delivered four aces.

Freehold hosts Marlboro April 14 and Colts Neck April 21.

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