Southern, Pinelands Trade Volleys in New Middle School Sports

First Volleyball Match Decided by 4 Points
By DAVID BIGGY | Apr 10, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy NEW BUZZ IN TOWN: The Southern Regional Middle School boys volleyball team slaps hands with the Pinelands Regional Junior High School team following their first-ever interscholastic contest on April 2.

Perhaps some credit for the institution and development of middle school boys volleyball this season can be given to Eric Maxwell at Southern Regional High School. Many years ago, Maxwell and Southern started their boys program and within a decade, the Rams were state champions and the premier squad in Ocean County.

Once that happened, other school districts within the county, and the Shore Conference, jumped on the bandwagon and started developing programs at their high schools. Now, the majority of Shore Conference high schools have boys volleyball and the game is still growing.

So, it’s only fitting, since Ocean County started a middle school league for boys volleyball this spring, that Southern was one of the first to join the fray.

“It’s been a long time coming and we’re all excited about it,” said Southern Middle School coach Laurette Ibe, who’s coached various sports during the past 21 years in the Southern district and is the one who will be responsible for the development of players who eventually will end up in Maxwell’s program across the street.

“Eric’s excited about it, for sure. I’m just glad I was chosen to be the coach that starts this program. I’m looking forward to developing players and sending them to the high school, and I’m excited for the boys. This is a great opportunity for them.”

Of course, Ibe was calling the shots from the sidelines of Southern’s first contest of the season on April 2. Interestingly, the Rams were on the road at Pinelands Regional Junior High School, which opted into the middle school league as the district takes its first steps toward developing a boys program that will be in the high school starting next season.

“This is another historic moment to start middle school boys volleyball here at Pinelands,” said Kathy Bennett, who along with her husband, Jerry, will be guiding the Wildcats this spring. “This is amazing. It’s an exciting time for volleyball in Southern Ocean County, and we’re hoping the boys’ game grows as big as the girls’ game has over the years.”

In the first meeting between the Wildcats and Rams, Southern opened up with a 25-9 victory in the first game and it appeared Ibe’s crew was going to run away with the match. But Bennett’s squad rebounded nicely in the second game, winning a thrilling, back-and-forth battle, 25-23. In the third game, several scoring spurts by both teams created an electric atmosphere in the gym, and the Rams ultimately triumphed with a 25-21 win.

Southern’s “A” squad – aka the “varsity” team – is made up of Connor Addiego, Zack Davis, Max DiPietro, Lucas Kean, Devin Tetti, Angelo Addiego, Jonah Short, Ethan Brummer, Nick Mancini, Chris Prosperi, Matthew Raylman, Aedan Gilman, Cameron Nugent, Landon Davis and Patrick Gaffney

“That was some pretty good volleyball for only four weeks of practice, and most of these kids never playing before,” Ibe said. “They did some great things on the court today. Their blocking and hitting was good, and I’m really proud of these boys. They were very excited to get the season started.”

The Pinelands “A” team includes Brogan Duelly, Ryan McCorry, Ethan Woods, Alex Ramirez, Trey Mumford, Aaron Johnson, Thomas Thornton, Dan Brunke, Ryan May, Aiden Falduto and Rex Heuston.

“They were really fired up about this today,” Bennett said. “It was talked about on the TV morning show, we had a great crowd here for it, and a lot of the girls showed up to give their support. We didn’t know what to expect, because none of these boys have played other than in gym class. But we have some great kids who have been practicing for a few weeks, and they looked good. It was a very exciting match.”

Obviously, for both programs, the primary focus is to build on volleyball fundamentals and developing each player for specific roles that are meant to work together on the court.

“This is a different game than what they’ve played in gym class,” Bennett said. “The biggest part is to make them fundamentally sound, learn the basic volleyball skills so that they can build on them as they go through their high school years.”

While the same holds true for Ibe at Southern, some might say there’s a bit more pressure on her.

“Oh, absolutely, there’s pressure,” she said with a laugh. “We’re talking Eric Maxwell and state championships, and here I am with these 13-year-old boys, trying to develop them for that level. But, seriously, Eric told me to do my best with it, and that’s what I’ll do. It’s a good kind of pressure.”

Not surprising, Barnegat’s Brackman Middle School also has developed a boys program for this spring, and it will be guided by coach Amanda Monek.

“Our school is extremely excited to have this program, and so far the boys are really enjoying it,” Monek said. “We currently have 23 boys on the volleyball team.”

The Bulldogs’ “varsity” team consists of Nicholas Block, Joseph Corcino, Ryan Dugan, Christian Dugan, Max Giaccone, Devin Lane, Anthony Ryan, Josh Salomia, Bobby Sawicki and Michael Dugan.

Brackman will be at home on Friday, April 12, to take on Southern, and the next day the Bulldogs are slated to play in the Monmouth Ocean Parochial Volleyball League Spring Tournament.

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