East Brunswick claims sectional volleyball title

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By Jimmy Allinder

It was a championship boys volleyball match that rightfully decided which team was the best in the NJSIAA Central Jersey sectional — and maybe the state.

The clash between top-seeded East Brunswick High School and second-seeded Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen June 3 provided all the thrills to be expected when the top two programs from arguably the most competitive section in New Jersey collide. In a thrilling match characterized by thunderous windmill kills and breathtaking saves by both teams, the Bears prevailed in straight sets, 25-23, 25-20.

East Brunswick (27-6) moved on to the state semifinals June 7, when it met Harrison High School (36-4) at South Brunswick High School. The winner meets the survivor of the other semifinal between Southern Regional High School and Wayne Valley High School June 9, also at South Brunswick.

Based on their performance throughout the sectionals and especially against St. Joe’s, the Bears were clearly on a roll and considered a serious threat to win the state championship. In each of four matches that led to its Central Jersey title, East Brunswick did not drop a set. Still, Bears coach Greg Rutz said his team has only been focused on the immediate point.

“Our mantra all season has been one point, one play,” he said. “You can’t hit a ball and score three points. If we win the point, so what? It’s only one point and we have to move on.”

In three previous matches between the Falcons and Bears, St. Joe’s won twice, but Rutz knew whichever team successfully executed its strategy and kept the momentum would win.

“It’s been said before and I’ll say it again,” Rutz said. “Our guys love to play St. Joe’s because we bring out the best in each other and that can only benefit us. They know us and we know them and anytime we get to meet, it’s just a lot of fun.”

The Bears have produced quality teams throughout their long history playing volleyball but had not captured a sectional championship since 2007. Bridgewater-Raritan High School, which was dispensed by St. Joe’s in the semifinals, 2-0 (25-21, 25-20), won the sectional last spring and moved on to capture the state championship.

Statistically speaking, the wealth has been spread throughout an East Brunswick lineup dominated by seniors. Senior Yoni Auerbach leads with 153 aces, followed by junior Kyle Loesner’s 138, seniors Jeff Chen and Marco Loncar with 95 each and senior Keith Kuchenbrod with 93. Senior Tom Pappas has been dominant on the serve with 657 points, and digs have been well distributed with Loesner as the team leader (89), followed by Kuchenbrod (82), Yonerbach (67), Loncar (67) and Chen (60).

Asked about the ups and downs his team had this season but how it peaked when the sectionals began, Rutz said the Bears’ record (27-6) had a lot to do with players not being at full strength.

“We weren’t always healthy throughout the season,” he said. “We had guys out with assorted injuries, and that impacted our record. We’re still sore, but we’re not out.

“When [you] have as many seniors as we have (eight), it takes a while to decide which combinations worked best together.”