While the outdoor sounds of “ping” from the metal bats and the “bang” of the starter’s gun from track meets were going off in the spring season, inside South Jersey gymnasiums were echoes of thuds from bodies diving and balls being spiked down onto the hardwood floor as the boys’ volleyball season played out.
And as the season drew to a close, the players who stood out among their peers were honored. The South Jersey Volleyball Coaches Association chose a Player and a Coach of the Year in addition to selecting 20 athletes to form the All-South Jersey first and second teams.
For the second straight year, the committee tagged Erik Egan of Sterling High School as the South Jersey Player of the Year. The senior outside hitter notched 279 kills, 13 blocks, 166 digs, 13 assists and 24 aces in his final season. The All-Conference first-team selection also set the school-record for kills in a career, finishing with 667.
“Erik is always playing volleyball and he is constantly working on his game and trying to be a better player,” said Sterling coach Daniel Stuart.
In addition to the phenomenal numbers he puts up, Egan’s greatest strength is his leadership.
“Erik is constantly approaching me with ideas on how to make the team better, how to approach other teams and their best players,” said Stuart. “He encourages the young players and gives them pointers on how to get better.”
While Egan headlines the first team, the roster also features nine other individuals who played major roles for their respective schools: Bill Fischer (Eastern), Jeff Nelson (Moorestown), Tyler Comose (Pennsauken), Peter Tran (Pennsauken), Wade Coomer (Eastern), Marvin Jones (Sterling), Kyree Thomas (Pennsauken), Joe Kerr (Eastern) and Zach Bernardino (Williamstown).
Second team choices include: Jared Morales (Sterling), Aaron Haegele (Cinnaminson), Stan Storchevoy (Kingsway), Jake Rudin (Cherry Hill East), Brandon Carpenter (Cinnaminson), Max Maycock (Williamstown), Anthony Santos (Williamstown), Nick Sammartino (Kingsway), Tyler Cavarocchi (Eastern) and Adam Herman (Clearview).
Touting the biggest presence on the first team with three representatives, Eastern head coach Tom Armour considers himself very lucky to have had three selections on the top squad as well as a member on the second team.
“Any time a team is fortunate enough to have these quality players,” said Armour, “it brings more recognition to them and makes their high school playing experience that much more rewarding. It’s a great feeling for them and me.”
For the Vikings, Fischer cemented himself as one of the most powerful hitters in the region. He set a state record with 15 solo blocks in a straight set match against Livingston. The senior finished with 189 kills, 71 solo blocks, 64 assists and 20 aces. Meanwhile, Coomer racked up 126 kills, 93 assists and 21 aces. A three-year varsity player, the outside hitter compiled an impressive .404 kill ratio. According to his coach, Coomer, who is heading to Johns Hopkins University, is one of the smartest players he’s ever coached. Kerr, the third member of Armour’s to be a first-team pick, became one of the best servers in the area, hitting a “good serve” 97% of the time. The setter also totaled 767 assists. Cavarocchi, a junior, tallied 46 blocks and 42 kills while boasting a serve percentage of 96%.
“I would have to say that being recognized is a great feeling,” said Coomer. “Not only personally, but to also see several of my teammates receive the same recognition is truly a testament to what we did as a team this season.”
“It feels really good accomplishing a goal that I set in the beginning of the season,” said Kerr.
Kerr and Coomer also noted the team’s tournament wins in the Eastern Invitational, Livingston Invitational and the Eastern Pre-Tournament Tournament (prior to the state tournament) were definite highlights in an impressive 18-3 season that landed them the No. 2 seed in the South sectional playoffs.
“We've always put together a pretty competitive team, but this year all the pieces fell into place,” said Coomer. “It meant a lot to us, coming from the underrepresented South to a predominantly North Jersey tournament (in Livingston), to make it all the way to the top.”
Likewise, Sterling, Pennsauken and Williamstown are also well represented with three players from each school receiving All-South Jersey honors.
While Egan garners much of the attention on the Silver Knights, Jones and Morales deserve a lot of appreciation for the seasons they had in 2014. Despite playing in only 14 games, Jones collected 81 kills, 30 blocks, 11 digs, three aces and one assist. His coach noted that Jones, who missed the first six games of the year, was a “dominating middle through the last week of the regular season and throughout the playoffs.” His teammate, Morales, garnered second-team recognition in his first year at the varsity level. The junior had 536 assists, 52 digs and nine aces.
All three of Sterling’s standout players played vital roles for a team that fell in the South sectional championship round to No. 1 seed Southern. In that final game, Egan had a game-high 13 kills, Morales set the pace with 23 assists and Jones led all players with five blocks.
Williamstown was knocked out earlier than expected in the playoffs but the loss didn’t take anything away from their talented trio. Bernardino set the school-record with 1,314 career assists. The senior had 519 assists to go along with 85 digs and a team-best 95 service points this year. Outside hitters, Santos and Maycock, had 140 and 185 kills, respectively. Unfortunately, an injury forced Santos to miss his team’s final six games.
The other two programs that saw two of their players receive All-South Jersey honors were Cinnaminson and Kingsway. Each school had two players earn second-team status.
Clearview, Moorestown and Cherry Hill East each had one player represented.
Herman, a four-year starter with the Pioneers, led the team in kills (10 per game), blocks (4 per game) and aces (25 for season). For Moorestown, Nelson leaves the school as the career leader in kills and led the team in every category this season.
While the athletes enjoyed receiving the recognition after months of training and hard work, there was one coach who was labeled the best among his peers: Pennsauken’s Jack Killion.
He coached his team to a 19-6 record and guided the Indians all the way to the South section’s semifinals as a No. 5 seed where they lost to the eventual champion, Southern. Under Killion’s guidance, the Indians had three players named to the first team. In their upset win over No. 4 Williamstown in the postseason, the team’s three All-South Jersey selections were instrumental in leading the charge. Comose had a game-high six digs with 10 kills, Thomas added 10 kills of his own to go along with four digs and Tran posted a game-best 27 assists in the 2-0 win.
"When Kevin Jeffers and I took over the program seven years ago we started with 14 kids and barely had enough for a varsity and a JV team,” said Killion. “Our program has grown to over 85 kids coming out this year and fielding varsity, JV, freshman and practice squad teams.
"I am proud of how hard my kids have worked and their dedication to spreading school pride throughout Pennsauken. We have the loudest gym around rivaling (any other school) and that's solely attributed to the kids of Pennsauken who come out in droves to support our program now.
"Being a Pennsauken graduate (1995) and a former volleyball player at the school during the second year of the program I'm excited to see how far we have come from then and cannot wait to see how far we can go in the future,” Killion concluded.
VOORHEES – This time the Silver Knights were not to be denied.
After having lost twice previously to Eastern this season, the Sterling High School boys volleyball team picked a great time to exact its revenge – Wednesday's South sectional semifinals of the state volleyball tournament.
Sterling seized the momentum in the first game, scoring the first three points and never trailed. It led by as many as nine points and won 25-19. In the second game, it was Eastern that jumped on top early but Sterling never fell too far behind, eventually pulling even at 13-13 and going on to win 25-19.
The 2-0 victory before a loud, spirited crowd in the Vikings gymnasium, enabled Sterling, which was seeded third, to advance to the regional championship match on Friday against top-seeded Southern Regional which beat Pennsauken, 2-0, also on Wednesday.
The Silver Knights had lost to Eastern on a Saturday morning early in the season, 2-0, and again later, in a tournament right before the state playoffs. Still they never doubted they could win and were motivated to prove it.
“We wanted this one bad,” said Sterling senior Erik Egan. “We had lost to them twice, once in an actual game and once in a tournament. When we’re running on all cylinders, no one can touch us. We’re a great team together and we played together today.”
The Silver Knights knew how important it was to jump in front right from the outset. With Marvin Jones a force at the net, the Silver Knights scored the first three points in the opening game.
“It was very important,” said Arios Pierre-Louis. “The last two times we played them they got a lead on us. We turned the tables on them this time and it played in our favor.”
The fact it was Jones who kick-started the Silver Knights was huge according to Egan.
“Marvin had one of his better games today” said Egan. “Anytime we can have someone other than me get a kill, that is awesome.”
Sterling opened up leads of five, six and seven points and had its largest lead at 22-13 before Eastern mounted a comeback but the Vikings couldn’t overcome the big hole they had dug for themselves.
“We both have big hitters,” said Eastern coach Tom Armour. “They have a couple and we have a couple so I don’t think they overpowered us today. The team that made the fewest mistakes won.”
Eastern started the second game by scoring the first two points and built its lead up to five at 13-8 before Sterling started to chip away. Jones, Egan and John Gorczynski scored points to enable the Silver Knights to tie the game at 13-13.
“When they got out on us in the second game we knew we had to step up and every one of us did.” said Tony Fedoriw. “We didn’t have to rely on one person. Everybody chipped in and we got back into the game.“
The game went back and forth until Fedoriw’s block put the Silver Knights on top for good 21-20. From there it was just a matter of closing it out.
Egan led the Silver Knights, now 22-1, with 11 kills, one block and 10 digs but, as Fedoriw said, everyone contributed. Fedoriw had three kills, a block and 10 digs. Gorczynski had five kills and 11 digs and Jones had a big day with eight kills, two blocks and 5 digs. Jared Morales registered 26 assists, one block and three digs while Pierre-Louis also had three kills.
Eastern, which fell to 18-3 overall, was led by Bill Fischer with eight kills, Tyler Cavarocchi who had three kills and a dig, Wade Comer with three aces and three kills and Joe Kerr who had two kills and 17 assists.
Erik Egan didn’t begin playing volleyball until he was a freshmen at Sterling High School. But once he did, he was hooked.
“I played football, baseball and basketball growing up and I played freshman football,” he said. “But with football I was bored at practice. There is a lot of standing around. With volleyball I am always looking forward to practice.”
Egan has obviously made the most of his practice time.
It shows in his accomplishments. As a sophomore, he made second team all-Olympic Conference. Last year, he made first-team all-conference, first-team All-South Jersey and was named South Jersey Player of the Year. He was also third-team all-state.
This year he is the senior leader on the Silver Knights boys' volleyball team which is ranked 11th in the state in the latest nj.com state poll with a 12-1 record.
“He is an outstanding player,” said Eastern High School coach Tom Armour. “He makes that team go."
Egan‘s game stats bear that out.
In a match against Armour’s 4th-rated Vikings, which pinned the only loss on the Silver Knights so far this season, Egan had 10 kills and six digs.
A couple of days later he had 14 kills, two blocks and seven digs against Moorestown.
In his two most recent matches, Egan registered 11 kills and seven digs against Pennsauken Tech and 15 kills and nine digs against Clearview. He puts up numbers like that every match.
Egan also became the first player in Sterling High School history to eclipse 500 career kills, doing so after recording 17 in a 2-0 (25-19, 25-17) win over Paul VI late last month.
“He’s been the best player in the program for the past three years,” said Sterling coach Dan Stuart. “He’s been playing club for the past three or four years and he just keeps getting better. He can score from every spot on the floor. He’s our best defender and he’s been a leader on the team for the past two years.”
Other than the Eastern match, which the Silver Knights lost 2-0, they have not a lost a game. Each of their 12 wins has been by the score of 2-0.
Egan’s leadership on the floor, both in practice and during matches, has been invaluable. He shares the experience gained playing with the South Jersey Volleyball Club with his Sterling teammates.
“I kind of help everyone with positioning,” said Egan who says he leads both by example and vocally. “I let them know when they’ve done something wrong and help them correct it. I try and show them what to do in certain situations and where they need to be.”
Certainly some of his volleyball acumen has to be credited to his family history. His older siblings Jessica and Tyler each played the sport at Sterling and graduated in 2010 and '12, respectively.
As much as Egan does for the Silver Knights, both with his play and through his leadership, he will be the first to point out it’s a team effort. Their record wouldn’t be what it is without a solid group of teammates and the chemistry that exists between them.
“The difference is, as a team, we are very close,” Egan explained. “We all know each other and we like being around each other. Our team has a lot of fun together. When I see one of the other guys jump up and get a kill, it’s a great feeling. I like it.
“We have two good middles in Marvin Jones and Arios Pierre-Louis. Our setter, Jared Morales, is coming on. I’ve played with three different setters in three years, but this year the chemistry is getting a lot better.”
Egan said he will probably attend Camden County College next year and work on his game playing in local men’s leagues. Eventually he plans to transfer to Kean University (Union, N.J.) and play there. The Cougars have a solid program and were one of eight teams in the nation to reach the 2014 NCAA Division III Championships.
But all of that is in the future. There is still some unfinished business.
“We definitely want to make it to states,” he said. “We hope to get far. I think we can make it through South Jersey if we come together as a team. That’s what happened at the Moorestown Tournament. We were focused and we clearly played well together. Everybody is going to have to be on when we get to states.”
Charlie Sprang is a reporter for South Jersey Sports Digest. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.