By Jeff Appelblatt
When Freehold High School’s boys’ volleyball team lost to Colts Neck High School for a second time this season, Freehold coach Ryan Walkiewicz more or less said the Cougars were the team to beat.
It was clear that didn’t change when the Shore Conference Tournament began May 15. The Colonials took care of Howell High School in the first round, 2-0, but the win left Freehold facing Colts Neck once again.
As had happened the first two times the teams met, the Cougars took care of the Colonials, 2-0. But unlike the first two meetings, Colts Neck didn’t win its following match. In the semifinals, Christian Brothers Academy (CBA) was able to feed the Cougars something the Colonials failed to do three times: No. 2-seed CBA beat Colts Neck, 2-0.
Freehold’s coach noticed that. He also noticed when Southern Regional High School rolled over CBA in the finals of the Shore Conference Tournament, but he quickly switched his concentration to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Central Jersey tournament.
Walkiewicz was certain that competition would only get tougher. The 14th-seeded Freehold found itself facing one of the best immediately. North Brunswick Township High School cruised past the Colonials, 2-0 (25-8, 25-17), May 23.
Freehold’s Justice Jubilee racked up 14 assists, and Dan Cutaneo slammed eight kills, but Freehold was no match for the Raiders.
“Outside of the Shore Conference, it’s a different world in volleyball,” Freehold’s coach said while collecting a few of his players’ jerseys in the gym at Freehold. “We walked in and saw a team like we had never seen before in North Brunswick. They were good.”
As good as the Raiders were in the one match vs. the Colonials, they were eliminated in the next round of the Central Jersey tournament by Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen, 2-0.
Still, the year was about more than wins and losses, and Freehold’s coach was excited by the season his team put together.
“The guys played well. They played the best volleyball we’ve ever played. A 12-8 season — you can’t take anything away from that. They had a lot of fun. We won a Shore Conference game. We went to the states again,” Walkiewicz said. “All-around, it was a good season. It was the best season I’ve been around for.
“We really came together as a solid volleyball team.”
Colts Neck has a senior that will be playing volleyball at the next level: Nick Panicali will attend and playing for Sacred Heart University. Freehold has no one continuing on.
But by the end of this season, Freehold and Colts Neck made it just as far in the state tournament. The Cougars were eliminated in the first round by Hillsborough High School, 2-1.
With new athletes and new leaders on the floor next season, the teams will spend the next 10 months or so in the same boat. Then it’ll be time for Freehold, Colts Neck and the rest of the Shore Conference to start competing once again.