June 9, 2022
It’s been a few hours since the NJ State Championship match for Boys Volleyball ended in South Brunswick. And I am still feeling goosebumps. The unthinkable happened today as the undefeated Goliath was struck down by the stone hurled from Old Bridge. Southern entered the match at 33-0, and having lost just two sets all season. But on this beautiful Spring day, the Rams lost as many sets as they did the entire year as the Knights claimed their 4th state title in a row in a three set thriller that will be remembered for decades.
It was a sparring match early on with both teams exchanging leads in the first set. The Rams were showing off a bit with the many tools in their arsenal. Justin Kean was pumped up and he was dominating at times in the first segment as all the Rams seemed confident and capable. The set was super close until the very end when the Rams put together a short streak and quieted the massive Old Bridge crowd who lived in a sea of purple shirts on the left side of the South Brunswick gym. The set was closer then the 25-20 score indicated but you could see the confidence spilling over on the Rams bench and in the Rams crowd, who were mostly dressed in white. The Knights stayed tight with the Rams for most of the first set fueled by Pavlo Chernyshov and a well orchestrated cast of players on the OB side, that have been in this spot before.
The experience and perseverance showed in set 2 as Old Bridge dug in and played some of their best volleyball of the year, especially after falling behind in the set 13-8. Senior setter David Flores (Kean University VB commit) settled in and orchestrated a left / right attack that was piercing the Southern block. Blake Krapf from the left and Pavlo Chernyshov from the right. Flores, who earned 40 assists for the match, was one of the standout performers as well as Pavlo and Blake who smashed 15 and 13 kills respectively. The Knights took command late in the set and turned the tide for the second stanza earning a 1-1 tie. The momentum shift was felt throughout the arena. Southern seemed to lose some swagger after sustaining only their third lost set of the year.
As the third set started, the Old Bridge crowd took over. Deafening chants echoed in the packed gym and Southern seemed to lose all focus as the set deepened. The referees became the target of their angst and they even received two yellow cards for arguing close calls. For the first time this season, they seemed to be losing the match to themselves. It’s not what you would typically see from a championship team’s demeanor when adversity hits. It was a close game at 10-10 and then before you knew it, Old Bridge had tallied 7 points in a row and 12 of the next 14 points, fueled by Blake Krapf prowess on the service line. Old Bridge never looked back after that and won the third set going away 25-16, with Pavlo Chernyshov blasting the final kill that was just too hot to handle for the Rams back row.
The Old Bridge crowd spilled onto the floor in a sea of purple to congratulate their Knights.
Rob Obdyke was just amazing all night but especially in the third set. He kept several kill attempts up in the air that should have been down. What a great way to close out his career on a super high note as he posted a match high 23 digs. Krapf was a difference maker for OB. After getting just two kills against Fair Lawn, he broke out against Southern with 13 kills, a block and three aces. Chernyshov was simply outstanding slamming 15 kills and also putting down 4 blocks. Massimo Rocco played a brilliant middle for the Knights gathering 8 kills and 4 blocks, both of which were high totals for his career. Evan Jazmin also made solid contributions for the winners with 4 kills and 9 digs.
Lucas Kean is going to be so fun to watch next season. He has massive talent and will surely keep Southern in the hunt for another state title next season. Senior Gavin Bates was so impressive down the stretch for the Rams. The 6’4″ middle did everything he could tonight and posted 7 kills, one off his career high. Setter Angelo Addiego is just a sophomore, but he played like a senior all season long. He has great poise and talent and will be a player to watch the next two seasons. And Drew McNellis will be moving on to D1 volleyball at LIU after his one year stint for the Rams. The 6’5″ senior posted 8 kills and 2 blocks tonight.
One of the big advantages today, from our point of view, was Coach Andrew Hopman. He made his adjustments in the second and third set, most notably by switching Chernyshov to cover the right side block against Lucas Kean. Kean, who was a monster in the first set, found it much more difficult to penetrate in set 2 and 3 as Pavlo earned 4 blocks on the Rams attack. Hopman exuded a sense of calm and a “we got this” sentiment to his players to build their confidence as the match went on. Southern appeared to go the other way after losing the second set, losing composure as their undefeated season slipped away. After a big block by OB to tie the score at 6-6 in the third, Hopman showed some massive emotion to ignite his team and give them the strength the push forward. Coach Hopman, once again, proved he is arguably the best coach in the state.
What a great finish to an amazing season of boys high school volleyball in New Jersey. NJP will be gathering their player and coach awards in the next two week as well as assembling a season to remember yearbook for download. Watch for that before June ends. NJ volleyball is getting better and better. We look forward to watching many of our standout seniors during their college careers.
Thanks to all the NJ volleyball fans who support their teams, whether winning or losing. It’s always such a pleasure to interact with players and coaches throughout the state. Volleyball in NJ is truly something special. We are so happy to be a small part of this great sport in our state.
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