J.P. Stevens finding success against quality GMC opponents


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By Jimmy Allinder

J.P. Stevens

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Even though the J.P. Stevens High School boys volleyball team is 10-6 overall and 6-3 in the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC), that isn’t a true indication of just how competitive the Hawks have been.

J.P. Stevens split a pair of matches against perennial kingpin Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen; beat another quality opponent, Old Bridge High School; and extended first-place East Brunswick High School to three sets in both losses to the Bears. With the GMC considered one of the top boys volleyball loops in the state, those performances are why head coach Anthony White believes his team has a legitimate opportunity to win the conference tournament in May.

If J.P. Stevens accomplishes nothing else noteworthy this spring, it already has achieved a program first by defeating St. Joe’s, 2-0 (26-24, 25-19), April 28, breaking a string of 17 consecutive losses to the Falcons.

Another reason J.P. Stevens can feel good about itself is the contribution from opposite Kyle Mackiewicz, one of the GMC’s top players. His team-leading 158 kills demonstrate his power and athleticism, which has melded well with the solid supporting cast that surrounds the senior.

Senior middle blocker Kevin Zhao leads with 49 blocks, has 43 kills and is joined by outside hitter senior James Lee, who has delivered 75 service points. Junior Sam Kim has registered 61 service points; junior servers Aakash Shrivastava and Nirav Patel have contributed 186 and 130 assists, respectively; and seniors Kiran Rajan and Shivum Mehta have been effective liberos. Senior server and defender Wesley Cheung has also seen situational action.

Although Mackiewicz is the clear leader in his last season and will look to extend his volleyball career in college, an up-and-coming outside hitter, Eric Li, is ready to take his place moving forward. The sophomore has shown an abundance of shotmaking capability by nailing 95 kills and an equal number of digs.

White’s program has evolved in recent years from ordinary into one that no opponent can take lightly.

“We look for taller, lanky athletes for our front-row hitter positions,” he said. “But for defender/servers and liberos, size really isn’t important, but they do need to have a willingness to get touches on the ball.”

St. Joseph

St. Joe’s is 19-6 overall and 7-3 in the conference to put it in second place behind East Brunswick, but the team uncharacteristically lost its last three GMC matches, including one to East Brunswick before scoring a 2-0 (25-15, 25-14) win against South Brunswick High School May 5. However, veteran coach Miguel Cabrita said he always believes realistic goals for the season include winning the GMC and state tournaments.

History proves Cabrita has earned the right to make that statement. The Falcons have often finished the season with 30-plus victories and have captured three state championships — the most recent in 2008. In addition, St. Joe’s has garnered five sectional titles — the last being in 2013. A year ago, St. Joe’s was 31-11 and frequent contributors from that team have returned.

Senior setter Dave Goncalves has a sparkling 522 assists; senior outside hitters Connor Mahony and Greg Vajtay have smashed 305 and 110 kills, respectively; senior middle blocker Bryan Carley has 88 blocks; and junior middle blocker Nick DiMarzio has 52 blocks. Senior opposite James Howlett has 107 kills, and senior libero Kyle Duggan has 177 digs. Mahony has executed 138 digs and recorded 32 aces.

Consistency has been the chief reason for the Falcons’ long-term success, and it begins with a tried and true philosophy Cabrita developed during his tenure that began in 1994 as an assistant coach. Nine years later, Cabrita assumed the head coaching job, and he has not deviated from his way of thinking.

“I always look for athletes who have natural ability and are ‘coachable,’ ” he said. “There’s a misconception that private schools have an advantage when it comes athletics. If anything, a small private school like ours with an enrollment of 700 makes it more difficult to find volleyball athletes, especially since most are initially exposed to the sport when they enter high school.

“We take them as freshmen and use their entire high school career to develop their skills. We also try to tap into players who have a willingness to work hard, train hard and have fun with the objective of turning them into volleyball players. The most important piece as far as I am concerned is the mental aspect. A player who understands the game and can see ahead of the play is more valuable than one who is all brawn.”


The Metuchen High School boys tennis team is cruising along with a 12-2 overall record but, more important, owns an 11-0 record in the GMC Blue Division and top record in NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group I. This comes on the heels of an 18-5 mark a year ago.

The Bulldogs are coached by Robert Strauss, who has put together a senior-laden team that has used its experience to dominate in nearly every winning match. In fact, only one underclassmen, sophomore Ethan Longville, who teams with senior Claude Alano at second doubles, has been able to penetrate the starting lineup.

The three singles players are Anil Patel (first), Aidan Benderly (second) and Gary Xian (third). Romeo Tiu and Andrew Allgauer are the first doubles duo.

“We do what most teams do, and that’s play challenge matches to determine our lineup,” Strauss said. “Once that happens, the rest of the team battles for the doubles positions. I always stress the importance of getting in first serves, returning well and finishing volleys at the net.”

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