Howell team digs it up on volleyball court

Marlboro, Colts Neck eye return to state playoffs

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

Staff Writer

SCOTT PILLING staff Marlboro's Ian Targovnik and Howell's Steve Sylvester meet above the net during a match won by the Rebels on April 20 in Howell.SCOTT PILLING staff Marlboro’s Ian Targovnik and Howell’s Steve Sylvester meet above the net during a match won by the Rebels on April 20 in Howell. The first weeks of practice were like boot camp for the Howell High School boys volleyball team.

They learned very quickly that they were not playing gym volleyball anymore.

Head coach Jim Huebner recognized early on that what his first-year varsity team lacked was the fundamentals. So practices were devoted to the basics. The team would spend as much as 45 minutes working on setting, service games, passing and bumping. Until the Rebels had grasped those elements, there was no spiking, the fun part of the sport, or actual scrimmage games.

“It was monotonous, but effective,” said Huebner. “They were good about it, they bought into it and didn’t complain.

“I told the kids that effort and intensity are most important,” he added.

Huebner’s back-to-the-basics approach has worked wonders with his Rebels. The first-year program is making a impact in the Shore Conference, having already scored wins over established programs. They are 6-3 for the season and are on track to make the state tournament in their first year

“The guys go after it,” Huebner remarked. “They’re not as consistent as I’d like them to be, but we’re on pace to get into the playoffs. The teamwork comes with time.”

Huebner envisioned fielding an underclass squad this year, one that would allow him to work toward the years to come, but it hasn’t worked out that way.

“My goal was to build for the future,” he said. “I kept more seniors than I thought I would because they were stronger. I told them if everything is equal I’m going with the underclassman. We have a good balance.”

It’s 6-foot-4 senior Mike Walsh who has given the program the equivalent of a go-to guy. He has established himself as a wall on the front like. He’s an imposing defender for opposition hitters and a can’t miss scorer with his spikes. In a recent straight set win over Marlboro, he had six kills (spikes) and four blocks, and even contributed two serving aces.

“I knew that he was good before we started,” said Huebner. “He’s athletic and our top spiker.”

While Huebner knew he had a finisher on the front line, one thing missing was a dependable setter. Another senior, John Bunnincont, has emerged as the team’s playmaker. He had 10 assists in Howell’s win over Marlboro.

A new rule that allows teams to substitute a back row defensive specialist – one who can field serves — called a Libero, has been perfect for Howell because they have one in junior Kevin Wilson. He keeps teams from rolling up points on the service end because of his skill at fielding hard serves.

Joe Rattacasa, a senior, has been giving Howell a second front-line force who can block and spike.

Freshman Adam Feehan has emerged as possibly the team’s best all-around player. He has a very effective and consistent jump serve, and he can finish points off on the front line.

Kyle Ludwig, Ryan Weimken and Sean Cottrell round out the starting rotation.

Last spring, Margie McNamara’s Mustangs were the team just starting off and making a big splash. They made the state playoffs in their first try and the goal in ’06 is to make a return trip to the postseason.

The Mustangs suffered some early season setbacks when they didn’t have all their starters in the lineup due to vacations, but they have rallied to even their record at 5-5 and keep themselves in position to make the state tournament.

“I have confidence in our team,” she said. “I have a good corps of kids with good skills. They are good, competitive players”

Several of the Mustangs honed their skills over the summer, participating in the Shore Volleyball League. That was to help them achieve their goal of building a reputation for winning volleyball at Marlboro.

Middle hitter Matty Weinberg is the team’s leading scorer, getting 13 to 14 kills a match. Senior Mike Kantor is a versatile player who provides both assists and kills. The team also looks to him for points with his jump serve.

Zach Sherman, a senior, is an excellent passer who can finish points when the opportunity is there.

Ian Targovnik, Eric Bzura, Rich Messasalma, Mike Borkin, Jeff Goddard and Jordan Rappaport are the other key players in the rotation.

McNamara has seen a noticeable difference is the way the Mustangs are playing this year compared to 2005. It’s called experience.

“They are so much more in tune with what they are supposed to be doing and where they are supposed to be.”

Over at Colts Neck, Glen Jansen is hoping that his veteran Cougars have turned things around and will also be a playoff participant. With seven seniors in the lineup, Jansen expected his team to get off to better than a 3-5 start, but a three-set loss to top 20 Moorestown last week may have turned things around.

“We played better than we’ve ever played before,” he said. “We had never taken a game off them before. We won a game and were competitive the entire match. It was a total team effort.”

Colts Neck followed that three-set loss with a 2-0 win over Monsignor Donovan, 25-12, 25-14, to further demonstrate that they have turned things around.

Before their recent improved play, Colts Neck looked like it was going to have one of those snake-bitten years where anything that can go wrong will. They’ve lost three of the four matches that went to three games.

“We can’t finish a game,” Jansen noted. “We haven’t had the mental toughness to play lights out when it’s game-point.”

Jansen pointed to his team’s opening match three-game loss to Marlboro, 37-35 in the third game, which is the second-highest scoring game in state history. The Cougars were ahead 23-18 in that third set and let Marlboro back into the match by getting cautious. That has nagged them in three-game matches since.

Still, the Cougars are well within range of getting back to the playoffs sporting a 5-6 mark. The key is balance.

“We have no premier hitter,” said Jansen. “Most teams have one player who will get them 20 kills. We don’t. We have a number of players who will get us 7-12 kills a match. We are very balanced and the guys work hard together.”

Captains Mike Maresca and Paulius Komskis along with Andrei Pilipetski, Scott Hampton, Lou Fonseca, Anthony Mauro and Steven Echols make up the nucleus of the squad. Steve LeFante has been the team’s Libero with his setting talents.

The veteran Cougars have had only one goal in mind from the start, the postseason.

“Our seniors want to make the states [playoffs],” said Jansen.