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Cougars holding onto unbeaten boys’ volleyball record

By Jeff Appelblatt

If exhaustion kicked in from playing each day, the perfect record of the boys’ volleyball team from Colts Neck High School could have been in jeopardy by the time it played its fourth match in four days.

The team wasn’t used to daily competition, but when the Cougars took the court at Wall High School April 21 with an 8-0 record, nothing was truly different.

“Honestly, our guys just did what I’d hope they’d do,” first-year head coach Greg Hope said.

As they had done every match of the season prior to the one at Wall, the Cougars went out and took care of business, beating the Crimson Knights, 2-0 (25-16, 25-22).

“This is an extremely focused group,” Hope said. “This group of guys gets the message. They’re such a disciplined group.”

The team didn’t let a busy schedule stand in the way of its goals.

“We’re at the point we should be at a high level everyday,” the coach said. “We’re trying to get to the upper echelon of the state.

“Win 2-0 — that’s the way it should be.”

Only once in the team’s first nine outings did it fail to win, 2-0. Red Bank Catholic High School took a game from the Cougars April 10, but Colts Neck won the decisive third game, 25-14, to finish the day with a win.

The 2-0 win over Wall went according to plan. Joey Lombardo set his teammates up with 18 assists. Timmy Wu scooped up 12 digs. Andrew Finnegan and Nick Panicali smashed 10 kills apiece.

It was just another day on the floor for the Cougars, except for Panicali more often performing at a higher level on the offense. He averaged 15 kills per game in the three contests between April 18 and 20.

“Nick [Panicali] wasn’t really an ex-factor in that game [vs. Wall],” Hope said. “I asked him about it, and he said it didn’t matter. He just wants to win.

“I think that pretty much says it all. He leads by example.”

This is exactly where the coach expected the senior to be at this point of his high school career.

“When he first got here as a freshman, I said this was the plan,” Hope said. “He’s an extension of me. He’s a positive role model for the kids.”

As long as Panicali and the rest of the team managed to outplay Christian Brothers Academy (CBA) — an opponent that took the floor in Colts Neck at 10-3 — April 25, Hope aimed to cruise into the playoffs with an unblemished record.

“It’s a big week this week,” he said before playing CBA, looking at that match and the two others his team had scheduled the first week of May.

The two opponents Colts Neck still faces this week will be Toms River High School South (5-2) and Howell High School (2-3). The Indians travel to Colts Neck May 1 for a 4 p.m. duel, while the Rebels host the May 4 match at 3:45 p.m.

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