March 31, 2012
Hudson County Varsity's 2012 Volleyball Preview
Sophomore setter Tyler Lee hopes to lead St. Peter's Prep to a third-straight county title. (Photo: Jason Bernstein)
By Jason Bernstein Editorial Director
Storylines for 2012
Bees look to break through
For years Bayonne has been among North Jersey's top programs. The last couple of seasons have seen the Bees fall just short of their ultimate goals of a Hudson County and North II sectional titles.
"Last year I think they were disappointed with the we finished in the state playoffs with the loss to Livingston (in the semifinals)," head coach Pat Longo said. "I would say we have some unfinished business before they graduate."
Longo and the Bees have good reason to believe that this year will be different as they return five starters, most notably a pair of three-year starters in Kris Kucza and Konrad Budny.
"They're like a dynamic duo," Longo said. "They have experience, they've been playing varsity since they were sophomore. It's really great to have their experience on the court.
"They know each other. They've been friends for a long time and they know where one another is at every point during the course of the game. It's great to have that one-two punch that we have."
Kucza, a 6-foot-0 outside hitter, had 264 kills. Budney, a 6-foot-2 setter, has emerged in Longo's opinion as one of the state's best at the position.
"He's like an extension of the coaching staff on the court because he sees things (on the court)," said Longo of Budny, who is currently No.7 in his graduating class at Bayonne. "He sees where the hitters are, he sees openings on the floor. If he sees that there's a block he know that instead of maybe going to the outside, going to the opposite hitter."
Elijah Egilate, Hojairy Peralta and Damian Bargielski also return as starters. The play of Bargielski, a 6-foot-3 middle blocker, has been a pleasant surprise during the preseason.
"I think with Damian we have improved tremendously with our blocking and playing defense," said Longo. "I think we're a stronger blocking team this year. I think Damian has put a lot of work this offseason and it has shown in the scrimmages."
Bayonne also has Kraige Tobias at libero and Jonathan Diaz as a specialist to help boost the defense.
... but can they beat Prep?
For the Bees to reach their goals, they will have to beat a team that has been a constant problem for them in St. Peter's Prep. The Marauders have knocked off Bayonne in seven of the last eight meetings, are the two-time defending Hudson County champs and have won five-straight sectional titles.
This year's Prep squad may not have quite the experience or height of a season ago, but the Jersey City power still expects to find itself among the top teams in North Jersey.
"We're not quite as big as we were last year. We lost guys like Tim McManus and a couple of other 6'5" guys," head coach Don Guide said. "But we're still ok, just not quite as big."
One main reason why Prep should remain a threat to repeat is the return of sophomore setter Tyler Lee. Despite standing at just 5-foot-10, Lee's athleticism made him one of the state's better setters with 548 assists and 90 blocks.
"He has progressed a lot," Guide said. "He was a good setter last year, but he's a top setter right now. He's gotten a little bit bigger, a little stronger. He hits the ball (hard)."
While the Marauders might not have quite the height of a season ago, they do have some size at their disposal, with 6-foot-5 senior James Nolan and 6-foot-3 junior Bill Lavelle at middle. Nolan is a returning starter.
Prep graduates All-State outside hitter Lorenzo Samin and will look to replace him with a host of guys. Sophomore Spencer Shickora will start at one outside spot along with Joe Walter and Joe Lampa. Walter, was the starting libero a year ago.
"We always played him as an outside hitter when he was coming up with the JV," said Guide about Walter. "It's something that happens a lot when a kid works hard and when he becomes a senior gets a little stronger and bigger. It's good to have an outside hitter with libero skills."
Senior Jeremy Del Castillo, a senior who sat out last season, takes over at libero. Chris Egan moves from outside hitter to opposite.
Can anyone challenge Bayonne and St. Peter's Prep?
Over the past two seasons Harrison has emerged as a potential Top 20. The Blue Tide lose Rahim Douelfakar and Chris Osiecki from last year's 19-8 squad as they try to make the leap to joining North Jersey's top tier.
"It puts a lot of pressure on us more than anything since we've got to maintain those type of winning seasons," head coach Nick Landy said. "We lost a few really good seniors so we really have to step it up."
Three in particular who will be counted on are middle blocker Matthew Muchowski and outside hitters Andreas Economou and Carlos Gutierrez. Muchowski, a 6-foot-6 senior, is a returning starter and one of the state's most physically imposing players.
"If he keeps his head he's pretty intimidating," Landy said. "He can be a pretty good hitter and he can serve the ball pretty hard."
The 6-foot-2 Economou is a three-year varsity player, who had 80 kills and 88 digs a season ago. The 6-foot-3 Gutierrez is the wild card of the group with his athleticism, but has little varsity experience.
"Carlos is definitely an athlete," Landy said. "He's got some good ups and I think he can get the job done if he can stay healthy, keeps his game in the game and keeps his confidence up."
Victor Narvaez is a three-year starter at setter and is coming off of a 2011 year where he racked up 533 assists. Lucas Nogueira is a returning starter at libero.
Last year both Memorial and Union City were among the biggest surprises. Union City won 21 games and made it all the way to the Hudson County Tournament final. Memorial won 15 games to reach the NJSIAA North II semifinals.
Both teams will have to overcome the loss of several key players though. Union City graduated 11 seniors from a year ago. Sophomore outside hitter Rafael Barcos had 157 kills a season ago and will lead a young and inexperienced group.
Memorial lost both of its outside hitters in Michael Acosta and Jonathon Carpio, but return a core led by Inolis Santana, Elicio Olivares, Kristian Gutierrez and Danny Baez.