By Warren Rappleyea
North Brunswick Township High School’s boys’ volleyball team is poised to make a strong showing in the postseason. The Raiders enter the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Tournament, which begins May 12, with a 16-5 mark and a string of impressive victories.
Coach Jim Biolsi’s team has defeated the likes of Bridgewater-Raritan High School (11-4), Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen (13-12) and Colts Neck High School (13-3) — all in tight three-set matches — and also downed neighboring South Brunswick High School (10-7) and Christian Brothers Academy (14-5).
The Raiders are coming off a tough 2-0 (24-26, 30-32) loss to GMC rival East Brunswick High School (10-7) May 5. Although the loss was disappointing, North Brunswick certainly served notice that it will be a force in the tournament.
Bryan Ezeonu and Jepthe Adolphe combined for 22 kills. Adolphe also made three blocks to run his team-leading total to 38. Greg Taylor had a strong match as well, notching five kills and adding six digs.
“Our guys have battled hard all season, and East Brunswick just managed to come out ahead in a good, close match,” Biolsi said. “At one point in the second set, we were down, 21-14, and a lot of teams would have packed it in. One of this team’s strengths is its mental toughness. They’re always focusing on the next point or play. That’s why we’ve won so many three-set matches. We know that when you lose one set, it’s just one set; they don’t let it carry over to the rest of the match.”
North Brunswick is undefeated in the GMC White Division and it has just two losses against GMC opponents: John P. Stevens High School and East Brunswick. The Raiders could receive a seed as high as third for the tournament. Old Bridge High School, at 17-2, is expected to garner the top seed. East Brunswick did manage to upset the Knights, but the win came in the final matchup of a quad meet. When the two teams met again, Old Bridge won convincingly.
The Raiders’ other losses came at the hands of undefeated Southern Regional High School, Lakeland Regional High School (15-5) and Hillsborough High School (12-4).
Ezeonu leads North Brunswick with 148 kills and has also accumulated 63 digs. Sophomore middle Chigozie Ibe has posted 108 kills to go with 35 blocks, while Adolphe has 93 kills. The versatile Taylor has 89 kills and 125 digs, while Max Santana, the team’s top defender, is first in digs with 265 and excels at receiving opposition serves.
The all-around efficiency of setter Ryan Jennings has paid dividends. The senior was outstanding in a three-set triumph against St. Joseph, posting 41 assists, six digs, three kills and a pair of blocks. He contributed 34 assists and 10 digs in the victory over Colts Neck. Jennings, who passed the 1,000 career assist mark earlier this year, has 432 helpers this season to go with 106 digs and a team-leading 28 service aces.
“We know we can score and that we’re balanced offensively,” Biolsi said. “I’d like to see us play better team defense in the tournaments. That could make a difference for us.”
South Brunswick will also look to make its mark in the GMC and state sectional tournaments. The Vikings have wins over J.P. Stevens and St. Joseph to their credit and lost a 2-1 decision to Old Bridge early in the campaign.
“The GMC overall is very balanced this season,” South Brunswick coach Jeff King said. “There are a lot of good teams that are capable of beating each other, so you never know what might happen.”
The Vikings count on junior outside hitter Tyler Peterson, who leads the team with 97 kills, and opposite hitter Will Robinson (89 kills) to provide points. Middle hitters Ife Loverton and Brian Knott have recorded 76 and 71 kills, respectively. South Brunswick also has a talented setter in ever-improving Danny Sun. The sophomore has 335 assists and 20 services aces and has also picked up 64 digs.
“It’s been kind of a roller coaster year for us,” King said. “For the most part, we played well early. Then we lost a match to Stevens that we felt we should have won and for a while we had a hard time recovering, but we seem to be playing better now.”
Heading into the regular-season finale May 9 against Woodbridge High School, the Vikings had won three of their last four matches.