Stafford Leader Spring Sports Previews

‘Expectations’ Unchanged for Southern’s 6-Time Volleyball Champions

Rams Missed Title By 2 Points in 2018
Apr 12, 2019

The Southern Regional High School boys volleyball team has reached the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s state championship match 10 straight years, winning six of them, four in the last six years. Needless to say, the Rams won’t be satisfied with anything less than another state title in 2019.

“Expectations will not change for Southern,” said head coach Eric Maxwell. “It’s always about the post-season and being ready to make a run when it matters most. Its goal is to win a state title in 2019.”

Indeed, Southern barely lost out on a third straight state championship last year, falling to Old Bridge 22-25, 25-21, 23-25 in the title match. You know the Rams are champing at the bit for another chance at the Knights or any other squad that stands in their way.

The key to the 2019 Southern team is the coach’s son Matt. The senior libero was First Team All-State in 2018 after leading everyone in New Jersey in assists, with 918.

“Matt makes us go,” said his proud dad of the three-time All-State selection. “He is our leader out there on the court. He has been around this game for so long. His experience, his work ethic, his passion and his fierce competitive desire will push this team to do great things.”

Of course, a player who leads the entire state in assists needs killers on the front line. Southern has them.

Senior outside hitter Zach Hem comes into the season with 420 career kills. Expect that number to grow considerably considering Coach Maxwell said Hem will be his son’s first offensive option, thanks to his 11-foot attack reach. Another outside hitter, Justin Kean, isn’t chopped liver, either. He’s 6-4 and, according to his coach, is the team’s most improved player thanks to an off-season spent on volleyball courts and in the weight room.

Opponents had better not spend too much time concentrating on Hem and Kean because seniors Anthony LeBlanc and Drew Wilgus bring “tons of experience” in the middle.

“We expect our offense to be extremely difficult to defend,” said the coach. “Our guys have spent so much time together over the past couple of years through our club program that they just know each other so well, and the chemistry on and off the court is amazing.”

Southern’s passing game will be led by three seniors – Logan Lipositz, Cory Galloway and Derek Medenilla. Their coach says they are not only solid in service receive, but also excellent defensively.

Maxwell’s roster is completed by senior outside hitter Issiah Gaines, junior right side hitter Nick Carrano, junior right side Jack Healy and a slew of sophomores in outside hitter John Barbieri, defensive specialist Ethan Case, outside/right side hitter Tommy Deakyne, setter Dylan Lockwood and middle blocker Jay Silva.

Southern typically prepares for the postseason by playing as brutal a regular season as anybody else in the state. The 2019 schedule is no exception.

The Rams are set to play in a tough quad at Kingsway on April 23, a tri at Hunterdon Central along with Bridgewater three days later, the Southern Invitational on April 27, a match at Christian Brothers Academy on April 29, a tri at Harrison along with Fair Lawn on May 4 and, of course, the Super Six, the state’s preeminent regular season affair, on May 11.

Southern should be up to the task. After all, the Rams already swept an opening day quad on April 1 that included a 25-22, 25-21 win over none other than Old Bridge. Then, on April 6, it won the Hillsborough Tournament by beating St. Peter’s Prep, Kingsway, Hillsborough, East Brunswick and Fair Lawn, four of which were ranked Top 20 teams in the preseason.

— Rick Mellerup

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

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