By Warren Rappleyea
North Brunswick Township High School’s boys’ volleyball team completed an exciting run through the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Tournament with an electrifying three-set victory over fifth-seeded John P. Stevens High School in the finals.
For North Brunswick, it was a hallmark win, marking the first GMC title in the 11-year history of the program. There will, however, be little time to celebrate, as the third-seeded Raiders host 13th-seeded Freehold High School in the opening round of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Central Jersey Tournament May 23.
North Brunswick, which lost twice to J.P. Stevens during the regular season, faced a seemingly uphill battle. The Hawks had knocked off top-seeded Old Bridge High School in the semifinals and, as the result of a pre-determined scheduling, ended up playing the championship match on their home court.
“Our guys knew it wasn’t go to be easy, but they were prepared,” said North Brunswick coach Jim Biolsi, whose team was also the third seed in the GMC Tournament. “We learned a lot from playing Stevens twice, and we scouted them extensively. We felt we had the strategy to win.”
The Raiders repeatedly went to their middle hitters, Jephte Adolphe and sophomore Chigozie Ibe, who responded with 14 and 10 kills, respectively, as North Brunswick prevailed 25-22, 18-25 and 25-23. Setter Ryan Jennings continued his superlative campaign by doing a little bit of everything. The senior ended the match with 32 assists, six digs, a kill, an ace and a block. Bryan Ezeonu, who leads North Brunswick with 222 kills, added five kills and eight digs to the winning effort.
Libero Max Santana compiled 23 digs, regularly received J.P. Stevens’ serves and made good passes throughout the match. Greg Taylor added 10 digs, junior Kunal Narula contributed three important blocks and sophomore Nick Villegas, the setter for the junior varsity team, came off the bench and completed six successful serves in the third set.
“Everyone contributed and in a big match, little things can mean a lot,” Biolsi said. “We’ve used Nick [Villegas] five or six times during the year when we needed to get serves in — and he’s done a good job. To have him jump in and do the job, during the third set of a championship match, was huge.”
While J.P. Stevens was at home in front of a large crowd, comprised heavily of J.P. Stevens fans, Biolsi noted a good sized group of North Brunswick fans — including several former Raiders players — were on hand.
“It was an incredibly intense and exciting atmosphere,” the coach said. “It was so loud that you could hardly hear. Just about everyone was standing through the third set. It was an incredible experience.”
North Brunswick (22-6) earned a trip to the finals with a 2-1 (25-22, 18-25, 25-21) victory at second-seeded East Brunswick High School May 18. Ezeonu and Adolphe paced the Raiders with 12 kills apiece, Santana added 18 digs and Jennings posted 33 assists and 11 digs.
The Raiders also edged sixth-seeded South Brunswick High School, 2-0 (25-22, 25-23) in the opening round of the GMC Tournament. Ezeonu had 10 kills, while Narula added five kills and three blocks in the match.
Biolsi said his team’s thinking only about Freehold now. The coach is confident that his team’s season-long ability to focus on what comes next will be a benefit in the state sectional.
“Winning the GMC is a big step, but we’ve never won a state game before (0-8), and we’ve never hosted one either,” he said. “That’s what’s next. Throughout the year, no matter what happened, a good play or a bad, a win or a loss, our team’s priority was getting itself set for what happens next. That’s been the key to our success.”