By WILL HARRIGAN FOR THE JERSEY JOURNAL
After breezing past Harrison in the first set by twelve points, it appeared the St. Peter’s Prep boys volleyball team was well on its way to yet another appearance in the Hudson County championship.
That is, until the Blue Tide flooded the gymnasium on the corner of Grand and Warren in Jersey City in the final two sets, stunning the state’s ninth-ranked team. Despite dropping the first set by a lopsided margin, Harrison recovered to jolt the top-seeded Marauders, 13-25, 25-15, 25-21, in the semifinals of the Hudson County Boys Volleyball Tournament. Fourth-seeded Harrison (16-6) will play for its first county championship against defending champion Bayonne tomorrow at 7 p.m. at the John J. Moore Athletics and Fitness Center at New Jersey City University. “I told them they played alright in the first set and better in the second set,” said Blue Tide coach Nick Landy, “But they played at their best in that third set and put this one away.” Prep, which has seven county titles to its credit, was knocked out in the quarterfinals last season after winning county championships in 2010 and 2011. The final set featured five lead changes and 16 ties. The Blue Tide took a 12-7 advantage following a Prep service error, but the Marauders battled back and knotted the score at 16-16 when Bill Lavelle spiked a feed from Tyler Lee. But at 17-17, New Jersey Institute of Technology-bound senior Varinder Singh blocked a Marauder spike attempt, giving Harrison a lead they would not relinquish. Six points later, a perfectly placed ace from junior serve specialist Vinny Yoshimoto gave Harrison a 24-19 edge. After St. Peter’s received a pair of blocks from Spencer Shickora and Shayron Taylor, an unforced error by the home team sealed the victory for Harrison. “I’m so happy for our team right now. Those last two sets were some of the best volleyball we’ve played all year,” said Singh. “If we play like that tomorrow in the championship, we’ll have a great chance to win it.” The Marauders (17-7) got off to a tremendous start, leading wire to wire in the opening set. Senior Chris Egan recorded five kills in the frame, while Taylor recorded three of his own and an ace while serving. Leading 17-11, Lavelle rattled off four consecutive service points, good for a commanding 21-11 edge. Four unforced errors later, the set was over and Harrison appeared to headed toward certain defeat. But the tide changed in the second set, as the West Hudson School committed five fewer errors and used Singh’s height to its advantage, parlaying four kills from the 6-foot-5 middle blocker. The Blue Tide also took advantage of some sloppy defensive play from the Marauders, who were set back by nine unforced errors in the stanza. An emphatic block of a Prep spike attempt by 6-foot-2 freshman Piotr Namiotko sealed the 25-15 victory and evened the match at one set apiece “We have a system in place that has worked for us, but after the first set we did not play aggressively enough to win and we played undisciplined volleyball,” said St. Peter’s coach Maurice Washington. Harrison successfully continued this year’s trend of Group I schools, notably Secaucus and Weehawken in softball and baseball, respectively, making runs to Hudson County title games. Bayonne, which defeated third-seeded Kearny in three sets yesterday, swept Harrison on April 10. “It’s David and Goliath every time out for us. But we did play Bayonne earlier in the season and lost without some of our key guys in the line-up,” Landy added. “We’re at full strength now and playing good volleyball down the stretch.”