By Warren Rappleyea
Following a strong showing at the recent Bloomfield Tournament, Old Bridge High School’s boys volleyball team may be ready to turn the corner after an uncharacteristic 1-3 start.
Although his team’s lineup is totally revamped from last year’s 20-victory team, Old Bridge coach Andrew Hopman has never been one to shy away from tough competition. In the 16-team Bloomfield Invitational tournament, the Knights went up against quality teams from Rhode Island and Pennsylvania and generally played well.
Once the final brackets were set, Old Bridge downed Lyndhurst High School, Livingston High School and J. P. Stevens High School in single-set matches to win its bracket.
“I think that tournament was a turning point for us,” the coach said. “Our guys were able to sustain a high level of volleyball throughout the tournament. That was pretty difficult. We were there for nearly 12 hours, and we had to play six different teams. But in the end, I think our guys realized that we’ll be all right.”
After opening the year with a solid 2-0 (25-20, 25-22) win over South Brunswick High School, the Knights dropped three straight. On April 4, the Knights came out strong against Christian Brother Academy (CBA), taking the first set before falling, 2-1 (25-14, 23-25, 15-25), in a match Hopman felt his team should have won.
Bridgewater-Raritan High School then defeated Old Bridge, 2-1 (18-25, 25-22, 17-25), in another tight match, and Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen dominated the Knights April 7, 2-0 (19-25, 17-25).
“I think our guys were getting a little frustrated because we were playing pretty well until the St. Joe’s match where they just beat us,” Hopman said. “We took two good teams to three sets and didn’t have anything to show for it. That’s why the Bloomfield Tournament was important for us.”
Thus far, Elan Dorkhman has been one of Old Bridge’s top players. Just a sophomore but already a co-captain, Dorkham piled up 20 kills in the Bridgewater-Raritan match to go with five digs and four blocks. He also reached double-figures in kills against South Brunswick and CBA.
“Elan’s our guy; he’s our leader on the court,” the coach said. “He plays an amazingly smart game for such a young player, and he finds ways to score points — and he’s only going to get better and better.”
The Knights have been able to pick up a fair amount of points off blocks thanks to the play of sophomores Randall Anderson and Michael Schon in the middle. Junior Ravi Kandula has been the team’s top server, and powerful junior outside hitter Vladimir Kucheriavyy has become a factor. Freshman Andrew Zaleck has been a solid addition to the lineup, turning in a five-kill, two-dig, two-block showing against Bridgewater-Raritan.
“Our guys are learning to accept their roles and work on what they’re good at individually to help the team,” Hopman said. “Our main goal is to get better every day — and I’m seeing that.”
Old Bridge was set to play Piscataway Township High School April 12 and will take the court against J.P. Stevens April 14. On April 16, the Knights will host a quad-match with Livingston, Eastern Regional High School and St. John Vianney High School.