WEST WINDSOR: Athlete of the Week

WW-P North’s Foster making own mark on court

By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
   Jason Foster was a freshman the last time that the West Windsor-Plainsboro North boys volleyball team made any noise in the state.
   In 2009, the Knights, with Jason’s brother, Brian a senior starter, bounced back from a 6-win season to make the state tournament and go 18-8.
   ”I was a freshman benchwarmer on the varsity,” said Jason, who is now a senior. “I was sitting on the bench. That really made me motivated to want to be that successful my senior year and surpass that, and I want to get that state win that we haven’t gotten since 2003. And we only got one win (in the 2003 state tournament). That’s the best we did. I want to do better than that.”
   Foster has helped the Knights get off to a more promising start than the 2009 team as they attempt a turnaround of their own. WW-P North won just six matches a year ago, but already has five wins less than two weeks into the season.
   ”Our ‘09 team is the best we’ve had so far,” said Knights head coach Erich Trautwein, “but this team is up there. And we’re off to a real fast start.”
   Foster had 16 kills and five digs in the Knights’ 2-1 win over last year’s second-ranked Hillsborough High squad to open the season last Tuesday.
   ”They did start at No. 5 in the state,” Foster said. “They were 6 a week later after we beat them. What really happened was we bonded. We all went to a Princeton-Penn State match. We noticed, after every point, whether they won or lost, they all came together. They mentioned we should start doing it. We did it in the tournament that weekend and were very successful.
   ”We had a lot of motivation to beat Hillsborough. I consider it our biggest rivalry. They’re always a top 20 team. We haven’t beaten them at Hillsborough ever, and not since my brother’s team. That win really motivated us. It opened some people’s eyes to how good we could be. That day, we played our style of volleyball.”
   Foster delivered 24 more kills and 18 digs, along with 12 aces, as WW-P North topped Ridge, Memorial and Roselle Catholic while losing to St. Joseph’s Metuchen in a quad meet last Thursday.
   Jason Foster is the Princeton Packet Athlete of the Week.
   ”It was really a nice start to the season and a promising outlook to the rest of the year,” said the Knights team captain. “I was happy with (Thursday) because we did end up 3-1. We had a chance at beating Joe’s. We were with them both games to about 18-18 and lost our composure and started making careless errors. Hopefully if we see them again, we can beat them. We did take care of the other three teams we beat. We did play solid volleyball. I wish we could have beaten Joe’s. We’ll see that at some point again.”
   Foster is hoping that the next meeting is on the way to a big finish to the season. His brother’s senior year ended with a big late run. This time, the Knights have started well and hope to show their hot start is no fluke despite their struggles a year ago.
   ”We worked really hard last year,” Foster said. “Last year, we had no real senior leadership. It was a bunch of underclassmen. We all played together last year and all played together in the offseason. We knew there was a chance. It’s the hard work we’ve done that’s made us successful. Our team has come together nicely. We’ve bonded together well, and I think that outplays skill sometimes.”
   Added Trautwein: “We knew we would be a lot better from last year. Coming up through the ranks is our junior class. We have a very strong junior class, which helps the seniors. The practices are really competitive. We have a lot of juniors, who are starting or getting a lot of minutes.”
   Going 6-15 a year ago was tough, especially for competitors like Foster. It only strengthened his determination to make it a better season.
   ”We experienced a lot of hardship, but now’s our time,” Foster said. “It motivated everyone on our team, me especially. It’s my last year. I want to go out with something special.”
   The Knights stayed on a roll with a 2-0 win over West Windsor-Plainsboro South on Tuesday.
   ”The win felt really good,” said Foster, who contributed 12 kills. “I really consider Hillsborough more of a rival. Since South has lost Coach (Mike) Adams, they’re not the same caliber, but we lost to them last year for the first time since 2009, when my brother’s team lost to them. It was nice to beat them decisively to show them who the best team is in West Windsor-Plainsboro.”
   Foster’s own fast start has helped the Knights start 5-1, even if he’s sometimes overlooked on the state scene.
   ”He is our leader, he is our captain,” Trautwein said. “He’s an extremely smart volleyball player. He kind of flies under the radar in the state. He never gets mentioned as one of the top players. Anyone that plays him, and the people that practice with him, we know he’s one of the best.
   ”It’s the things he does. It’s how he reads the game. It’s how he communicates. It all starts in practice. He’s diving on the floor. He does everything he can to keep the guys up and know that we don’t want to lose.”
   Foster is one of five seniors on WW-P North, four of whom start. They all have two or three years of experience, which has made a big difference this year.
   ”We now have more weapons,” Trautwein said. “We’re more consistent setting. Our passing is better. We have more attacking weapons. We have more depth than we’ve had in a long time.”
   The improvement across the board means teams can’t just focus on Foster. It’s made him a more dangerous hitter.
   ”A lot of my hitting success is because I have other hitters,” Foster said. “Eric Hsu can hit. Kris Bebenov is good. Our middles can get kills. We have back row options. It’s more that the defense has to focus on. It’s a lot of pressure off me. I’m able to get up and swing harder.”
   David Adlai-Gail is the setter for the offense that is shaping up to be a pretty potent attack. He and Bebenov have been vocal leaders for the team along with Foster. Trautwein has mixed feelings as he watches this season develop.
   ”With each match we play, it’s a little sad,” he said. “I know eventually it’s going to come to an end. It’s sad because Jason and his brother both played for me. It’s like this chapter that’s going to close, along with the other seniors. As much as it’s exciting to win, it’s that much closer to the end for them.”
   Foster likely wouldn’t be playing the sport if it wasn’t for his brother taking the lead seven years ago.
   ”He came home freshman year and said, I want to play volleyball,” Foster recalled. “Of course, he needed someone to play volleyball with in the backyard. He’s really the reason I started the sport and the reason I fell in love with the sport.”
   It’s also helped that he’s developed under the tutelage of Trautwein, the only coach he’s known at WW-P North.
   ”He really is extremely dedicated,” Foster said. “He’s the source of all the success. He’s gone through extensive training, through various volleyball organizations to progress our team and make us a high caliber team. The drills and what he teaches, it’s what’s going to yield our success. It’s not any individual player. It’s the coaching that’s made each player better on our team.”
   Foster saw a lot the Knights’ success up close as a freshman. Now, three years later, he’s leading a WW-P North group that is determined to leave its mark.
   ”He just continues to get better as a player,” Trautwein said. “And more importantly, he’s taken on that leadership role this year.”
   Foster hopes to join his brother on the Rutgers club team next year. First, however, he wants to ensure that he has the sort of scholastic ending that even his brother didn’t get, a long run in the state tournament.
   ”We’re actually a contender this year,” Foster said. “When the preseason reports came out, I really think we were overlooked. We were really not expected to do well this year.”