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.
SHAMONG - There are many milestones and records that are measured for high school athletes. As a hitter in softball, 100 career hits is one of those lofty benchmarks.
Keep in mind though, any record is only measured through games played at the varsity level. Translated, that means that unless a player is on the varsity roster and actively playing as a freshman, there is fewer time to achieve these records.
For Washington Township junior Jessica Hughes, she collected her 100th career hit Thursday as the Minutemaids improved to 2-0 with an 11-1 win at Shawnee. The defending Group 4 state champs have scored 31 runs in their first two games.
Hughes came into the season with 94 hits. She got three in her team's season opener -- a 22-0 win over visiting Timber Creek Tuesday -- then added three more knocks Thursday to reach the century mark. Thursday's third hit, No. 100, was a long double that missed the fence by about 10 feet.
"Jessica hits for power and average," said her club coach John Biasi. Biasi, who does not coach the Washington Township High School team, was on hand to wacth his player reach the milestone. "She has natural hitting ability with a smooth left-handed swing."
He should know, after all his New Jersey Gators Gold club team competes at the highest levels nationally, and Hughes is a central part of that team. The gifted shortstop hepled lead the team to a 12th-place finish at the ASA Gold National competition in Clearwater, Fla.
Hughes went 3-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored Thursday. Coming into the game, she admits she simply wanted to put the 100th hit behind her.
"I was hoping to get it last year but I fell short," said Hughes after Thursday's win. "At each at-bat today, I was nervous, but when I hit that one, I knew it was going to drop in."
She's glad the pressure of reaching the milestone is over, but Hughes is now pursuing even rarer air -- 200 hits for her high school career. "I'm happy to have achieved this. My coaches and teammates have been a big part of it."
Hughes, who has already verbally committed to Fordham University, is glad she has her college search in the rearview mirror. She says that she can relax a bit more and focus on her game, her academics, and enjoy the high school experience. But with loftier goals to pursue and a Group 4 state championship to defend, Hughes will still be working hard on the diamond.
CINNAMINSON - There is nothing like beating your biggest rival to open the season on your own court.
Cinnaminson outlasted Collingswood Wednesday afternoon, 2-1, in a dramatic Olympic Conference National Division boys' volleyball contest.
The Pirates easily won the first game, 25-17. Collingswood battled back to win the second game, 25-22, but Cinnaminson took back the momentum, rallying to capture the rubber match 25-22.
“Collingswood is our biggest rival,” said Cinnaminson coach Rob Speier. “They have been since our inception nine years ago. It feels good to get this one out of the way in our home opener.”
The Pirates were led by Peter Selnek, who had 18 kills, one block, four digs and one ace. Dean Jones added 28 assists, one dig and three aces and Brandon Carpenter contributed 17 digs and three aces. Pat McCarthy also had a fine all-around game with three kills, two blocks and six digs.
For Collingswood, Isaac Destin had eight kills and two blocks, Ibrahim Kargbo had seven kills and three blocks and Pat O’Donnell had 10 assists.
"We play them again at the end of the month," said Speier "that game will be even more difficult, but we will be ready for it."
The Pirates are looking forward to this Saturday's tournament at Moorestown.