Knights primed to be top contender in GMC volleyball tourney

By Warren Rappleyea

Old Bridge High School’s boys’ volleyball team owns an 11-2 overall record and appears to be the front-runner to earn the top seed in the upcoming Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Tournament.

Old Bridge is coming off a 2-0 (25-22, 25-21) victory against East Brunswick High School April 26 in a match that saw Elan Dorkhman pile up 19 kills to go with eight digs. It was a big win for coach Andrew Hopman’s team as it avenged a loss to the Bears two days earlier.

That defeat — in a quad match — represents Old Bridge’s only conference loss this spring. The Knights had already bested Christian Brothers Academy (CBA) and Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen before taking on the Bears. East Brunswick took the first set, 25-16, and after the Knights evened things with a 25-21 second-set win, the Bears prevailed in the third set, 25-21.

“We didn’t play well in our loss to East Brunswick, and you have to be at your best against a good team like that,” the coach said. “Our guys were really psyched for CBA and then they had a little bit of a letdown against St. Joe’s but were still able to win. We started slow against East Brunswick — it was their third match, too — and they took it to us in the first set and we couldn’t recover.”

Old Bridge’s other loss was a 2-0 decision (27-29, 21-25) against undefeated Hunterdon Central Regional High School. Hopman’s team played well, as Dorkhman posted 13 kills and Grant Totten picked up 15 digs. The two teams could meet again in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Central Jersey tournament later this month.

As always, the Knights have lined up against an array of impressive opponents and have defeated quality teams, such as Eastern Regional High School, Harrison High School, Hillsborough High School, Livingston High School and Saint John Vianney High School. Old Bridge reached the semifinals in the Bloomfield Invitational Tournament and the quarterfinals in the Livingston Tournament earlier this season.

Old Bridge showed its resiliency in a 2-1 (18-25, 27-25, 25-15) victory over St. Joe’s April 5, when Hopman decided to make some adjustments on the fly. The Knights struggled in the first set, but setter Brian McGeehan came off the bench to help spark the comeback.

“That really shows how talented and smart our players are,” Hopman said. “Sometimes, when I come up with an idea, we don’t have the time to practice it. With this group, I can generally tell them what I want; I don’t always have to show them.”

It also helps to have the 6-foot-2 Dorkhman up front. As the Knights’ first attacking option, the junior leads the teams with 211 kills and also has 113 digs and 13 aces to his credit. A heads-up player, Dorkhman noticed that the incorrect player served in a match against Bayonne High School. After he pointed it out to the referee, Old Bridge won the point and got the ball.

“I’m so proud of the way Elan has developed into a leader on the court,” Hopman said. “He’s always talking to the other players, pointing things out and encouraging them. He helps bring up the level of the other guys.”

Sophomore opposite Andrew Zaleck has posted 83 kills and 23 digs, and junior middle blockers Randall Anderson and Mike Schon have 75 and 48 kills, respectively. Anderson and Schon’s ability to execute timing plays has been a boon to the Old Bridge offense.

Antonio Rocchio stepped in after McGeehan suffered an ankle injury and has been a solid setter. The junior can do a little bit of everything. In addition to leading the team with 328 assists, Rocchio has contributed 47 digs and blocked 17 shots. Totten, a senior, is the Knights’ top defensive option, and his 221 digs top the team.

Old Bridge had conference matches at John P. Stevens High School April 1 and at home against Piscataway Township High School May 3. Wins in both would virtually assure the Knights of the top seed in the GMC Tournament, which will begin either May 12 or 13.

Hopman’s team will close out the regular season at home against Bridgewater-Raritan High School May 10.