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Knights hope to learn from loss in state tournament play

By Warren Rappleyea

Old Bridge High School’s boys’ volleyball team looks to bounce back from an upset loss at the hands of John P. Stevens High School as it begins play in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Central Jersey tournament.

The Knights (22-3 overall) were seeded second in the section behind undefeated Hunterdon Central Regional High School and were set to host 15th-seeded Red Bank Catholic High School May 23. A victory there could very well pit Old Bridge against J.P. Stevens again May 25.

Old Bridge downed the Hawks twice during the regular season, but when the two teams met again in the semifinals of the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Tournament May 18, the Knights fell, 2-0 (31-33, 25-21, 23-25).

“We felt like we were going to win,” Old Bridge coach Andrew Hopman said. “Stevens deserves a lot of credit. They fought for every point like they were playing for a state championship. They really wanted the match.”

It was a see-saw battle throughout, but J.P. Stevens managed to put pressure on the Knights throughout the match and kept getting the ball to outside hitter Eric Li for kills. Old Bridge hurt its own cause by making 21 service errors as the Hawks continued to press.

“We average four-to-seven service errors and for us to make 21 is unheard of,” Hopman said. “We certainly made mistakes, but part of our issue was Stevens put pressure on us and we weren’t ready for it. We were just getting the ball and serving it and forgetting about our routine. It’s like a basketball player shooting a free throw. They have a routine and they end with a deep breath. We were rushing.”

Despite this, Old Bridge still managed to make life difficult for the Hawks in three very close sets. Junior Elan Dorkhman led his team with 18 kills to go with nine digs. Randall Anderson added 11 kills, sophomore Logan Albrecht contributed eight kills and Andrew Zaleck posted five kills, seven digs and five service aces.

Hopman’s team prides itself on its tough schedule. This spring, the Knights defeated Bridgewater-Raritan High School, Christian Brothers Academy, Eastern Regional High School, Harrison High School, Hillsborough High School and Livingston High School. The Knights’ other losses came at the hands of undefeated Hunterdon Central and East Brunswick High School.

While his players would like another shot at J.P. Stevens, which lost the GMC championship game to North Brunswick Township High School, Hopman noted the path to a fourth meeting with the Hawks goes through Red Bank Catholic. J.P. Stevens, which earned the seventh seed, will play 10th-seeded West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South May 23.

“Our team is capable of winning the section, and our guys have shown how good they are throughout the year,” Hopman said. “Still, you never know what’s going to happen on the court. Hopefully, all of us learned some things from our loss to Stevens. We made some mistakes, but they wanted it more. We need to come out with that kind of intensity.”

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