Rebels, Cougars vie in A North volleyball

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

ANorth Division volleyball is coming down to Howell and Colts Neck. They are two of the top-five teams in the Shore Conference this spring and as the division schedule begins its second time around, they are in a first-place tie with two losses each within the division.

The defending champion Rebels scored a 2-0 win over the Cougars, who got themselves back into the race by upsetting Christian Brothers Academy last week, 18-25, 26-24, 25-20. It was the Cougars’ first-ever win over a top-10 team.

CBAthen beat Howell 2-0 on Thursday afternoon handing the Rebels (9-3 overall) their second division loss bringing them level with the Cougars with both teams sporting 5-2 records.

The Rebels won the program’s first division title (A North) last spring and despite the loss of a few starters, they find themselves in the thick of the public school division race with Colts Neck.

Coach Jim Huebner’s program has reached the level where each season the team is able to replace its graduated starters with equal, if not better, players. The team’s 9-3 start would indicate that.

“We’re a much better team than last year,” said Huebner. “We really can spread the ball around. We have a lot of good hitters.”

Adam Feehan (middle hitter) and Rob McClintock (middle hitter) are the cornerstones of this year’s club.

Feehan is the team’s most indispensable player and one of the best players in the Shore Conference.

“Adam is a big asset,” said Huebner. “He’s a good all-around player. He’s athletic and a smart player.”

McClintock was one of the biggest additions to the team last year when he tried out for volleyball for the first time. He became a force at the net and is even better now with the year under his belt.

“He’s just more confident in himself,” said Huebner. “He’s been dominating the middle of the net.”

A newcomer, Jimmy Bernot, has been the team’s biggest surprise. The senior was playing jayvee last year, but, improved his game considerably in the offseason and has become the top setter on the team. Because of his steady hand, Huebner has changed from a 6-2 offense to a 5-1 (which keeps the setter on the court). Bernot has 115 assists.

Seniors Derek DiPasquale (a starter in 2007) and Steve Burgos help the Rebels spread the scoring around up front. The team doesn’t look to just Feehan, McClintock or Katona for scoring.

A 2-0 win over Colts Neck earlier this season established the Rebels as a leading contender in the division again. Feehan had six kills, four blocks and two digs in the 25- 22, 25-20 victory. Bernot had eight assists and DiPasquale chipped in with six kills.

Colts Neck, the most established program in the Freehold District, added fuel to the CBA-Colts Neck rivalry with its historic win onApril 22. It was a huge victory because the Cougars had to dig themselves out of a hole after losing the first set to a team they had never beaten.

“We had no margin of error,” coach Glenn Jansen pointed out.

“Our blocking was the difference,” said Jansen. “We shut down their hitters. They couldn’t run their offense in the last two sets.”M

atthews had 16 kills, Hiller six and Villafane five blocks in the victory. Setter Justin Smith was his usual steady self, contributing 23 assists to the victory.

Hiller (outside hitter) and Maresca (outside hitter) are returning starters from last year’s 14-8 squad. They are battle tested seniors.

Villafane, a newcomer, has been the team’s top blocker and a force with Matthews and Maresca at the net.

Smith, Jansen remarked, has been doing a “great job” setting his teammates up. His 23 assists against the Colts are proof of that. He’s another senior veteran.

Frank Delgiudice has emerged as the team’s libero. His all-out hustle has kept the ball in play for the Cougars.

Bobb Van Schaack, a junior outside hitter, is playing varsity volley ball for the first time and has been making a valuable contribution as has Alex LeRoy, who had never played volleyball before this spring. They have been important additions.

When Marlboro’s season reached its nadir (a loss to first-year Freehold Borough), coach Margie McNamara knew it was time for a change. She moved from the 6-2 to the 5-1 because, as she explained, her best player was a setter, Richard Mezzasalma.

“We needed him to be on the court the whole time,” said McNamara. ”

The Mustang program is four years young and Mezzasalma is the only player to have been on the varsity during that time. Through his dedication to volleyball and work ethic, he has become the ideal setter keeping the ball off the floor while setting his front-line teammate up with the right passes.

Jordan Slavens, who has been a threeyear starter for the Mustangs, has provided consistency at middle hitter. He’s an aggressive player who puts shots away.

Mezzasalma, Slavens andHeller are the only returnees from last year’s 11-10 team.

Lucas Vidalin, a sophomore who played jayvee last year, has been the newcomer who has made the biggest impact. He’s made very few mistakes at middle hitter.

The Mustangs have rallied from their poor start and are at 7-8 and in a good position to be .500 or better on May 12 (cutoff for the state playoffs).

“They know its crunch time and what we need to do,” saidMcNamara. “They are tough kids and they have a focus.”

Freehold Borough is experiencing the growing pains of any first-year program, however, the Colonials have already cleared the biggest hurdle, getting that first win. In fact, they are 2-8 playing against established programs. An encouraging sign, says head coach Scott Preston.

“We’re getting a little bit more of consistent play each time out,” he said. “The boys have done a good job. As the season progresses, we’re getting better.”

Freehold Borough’s program was at the jayvee level last year and Preston knew that it would take time for his players to adjust to the higher level of play.

“The game is so much faster,” he said. “We got Howell and CBA right out of the game.

“We’ve been competitive,” he added. “Learning how to win is an issue. ”

Like the other players in the area, the Colonials can’t get enough of the sport. Volleyball’s roots are very deep at the Borough.

Preston noted that the Colonials have been competitive because they are a very athletic team. That has helped them hold their own againstmore experienced teams.

A trio of seniors is laying the groundwork for the program. Outside hitters Jason Horowitz and Pat O’Brien and setter Kyle Fredricks have been the team’s best players and leaders.