Hawks prove they can play with the big boys

Staff Writer

Staff Writer

MIGUEL JUAREZ staff East Brunswick’s Dmitry Esterov sneaks the ball past J.P. Stevens’ Chris Medvecky and Iiya Sobol during Friday’s match in Edison.MIGUEL JUAREZ staff East Brunswick’s Dmitry Esterov sneaks the ball past J.P. Stevens’ Chris Medvecky and Iiya Sobol during Friday’s match in Edison.

EDISON — The J.P. Stevens High School boys volleyball team got a glimpse of the state’s finest volleyball programs last week, as the team faced St. Joseph’s and East Brunswick on consecutive days.

East Brunswick and St. Joseph’s finished last season first and second, in both the state tournament and in the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament, and are expected to contend for the titles once again.

Although Stevens ended last week with two losses, the team feels confident that the tough competition will make them stronger.

"We proved we could play with the top teams in the state," Stevens head coach Patty Savulich said. "The program is only in its fourth year, and it’s a tough conference with St. Joe’s and East Brunswick, but the team is headed in the right direction."

In the season opener against the Falcons, Stevens lost 3-1 but showed toughness as the match went into the later stages. After dropping the first two games by scores of 25-13 and 25-20, the Hawks avoided the shutout and took the third game, 26-24, before coming up short in the fourth 25-22.

Friday’s contest against East Brunswick demonstrated that the Bears are capable of defending their state title. The Bears won 3-0 by scores of 25-16, 25-19 and 25-19.

Stevens will look to bounce back from the two losses this week with matches against Southern Regional, Christian Brothers Academy and cross-town rival Edison.

"We will see what we can do this week against teams we are evenly matched with," Savulich said. "After going .500 last year, our goal is to make states and to finish second or third in the GMC."

If this year’s team is to be successful, senior Praveen Pamidimukkala will need to have a breakout year. In the opener against St. Joe’s, Pamidimukkala recorded 25 kills and he added 12 more in the East Brunswick matchup.

"Praveen is a three-year starter, and this past year he played a lot of club ball and did the beach tournaments in the summer," Savulich said. "He is very versatile, and the work he put in during the off-season shows."

The 6-foot-3 middle man can play any position on the floor and often plays on the right side for his club team.

Alongside Pamidimukkala in the middle is fellow senior Ilya Sobol. Another versatile player, the 6-foot Sobol will play a pivotal role in the Hawk offense this season.

"Ilya’s passing has improved tremendously this year," Savulich said. "We want to run a quicker offense, and Ilya will be the guy to help us attack much faster."

Anchoring the right side is perhaps the team’s best overall player, senior Chris Medveckay.

"Chris can help do whatever we need," Savulich said. "He is a smart player with good hands and he is our best all-around player because of his passing abilities and his defensive skills."

The up-and-down play of 5-foot-11 senior Roman Goldburt could very well make the difference between a state tournament appearance and advancing to the later rounds of the state tournament.

"Roman has a strong passing game and, if he’s on, he’s unstoppable," Savulich said. "We are looking for him to find his timing and become a more consistent player as opposed to a streaky player."

A pair of junior setters will see a lot of action this season as well. Matt Tennisi will be asked to set off some offensive sets and classmate Joey Seaton is another solid passer and outside hitter.

"Joey is not a tall player but can be very effective," Savulich said. "He had five kills in five attempts versus East Brunswick."

A key newcomer to this year’s squad is freshman Chris Edra. An aggressive player with an impressive vertical jump, coach Savulich thinks he will see more action as the season progresses.

"Chris will be fighting for a starting position," she said. "He is able to fight through blocks and he is a strong contender for an outside spot. We will see what he can do this week."

With Pamidimukkala and Sobol off to strong starts in the middle, the team will need to improve its outside game in the coming weeks.

"We play a good defensive game, but we need to step up on the outside," Savulich said. "Our outside game needs some improvement especially when looking at the tough teams on this year’s schedule."