Southern is new champ on the block

Southern is new champ on the block

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Southern is new champ on the block

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SOUTH BRUNSWICK

It’s a hat trick the Southern Regional boys volleyball program can be proud of.

The Rams won their third NJSIAA Tournament title, beating St. Joseph of Metuchen 25-22 and 25-20 in the state championship match at South Brunswick High School on Thursday.

Southern also won the crown in 2009 and 2010. The Rams lost to Fair Lawn in the state championship match the last two years, but and beat the Cutters in the state semifinals Tuesday.

“I’ll take it,” said Southern’s 14th-year coach Eric Maxwell, the founder of the program. “It never gets old. The boys push each other. Our kids peak late in the season, which is what our design is. It’s unbelievable to win three of these things. When I began coaching, I said, ‘If I could sniff the state title once, it would be a great feeling.’ To be able to say we’ve won three – wow.”

It was the final career match for nine Southern seniors, including outside hitter Brandon Lee.

“Winning the state title is the best feeling in my life by far,” he said. “I’ve been waiting to get this for my whole life.”

Lee and Maxwell shared hugs and tears after the match.

“I’ve had four amazing years with coach Maxwell,” Lee said. “I am never going to get the chance to play for him again. He taught me a lot – not just volleyball – but how to be a better person.”

The Rams won the title when junior middle blocker Mike Gesicki and senior outside hitter Kyle Ficken teamed for a block.

“Kyle and I said, ‘Let’s get a block to end this thing,’ ” Gesicki said. “To score on a block is emotional. He got the first touch. I got the second touch and (the ball) went straight down. We’re state champs and it’s all history.”

Gesicki was also a key player for the Rams as a freshman and sophomore.

“This year, we practiced harder and dug deeper,” he said. “Coach Maxwell elevated his coaching. The fact we’re out here not hearing the other team celebrate makes this title special. It all paid off today as Southern is going out on top.”

The Rams closed the first game with a 6-2 run. Ficken provided the winning point with a kill.

“We stepped it up and blocked really well,” Southern senior setter Luke King said. “That made the difference. We were fired up. We had to get it this year after losing the last two years. This year’s team was not as skilled as last year’s, but we wanted it more. Nothing stopped us.”

Maxwell, whose Rams are 37-10 all-time in the state tournament, said strong play up front was vital.

“It started at the net with our blocking game,” he said. “Gesicki is such a presence. He rattles the opposition. The others kept their assignments and our back row fed off it. I felt we could wear them down that way.”

NJSIAA executive director Steve Timko told Maxwell after the match, “Congratulations, coach. Good job.” They shook hands. The Southern faithful snapped hundreds of pictures of their idols.

“Nobody on this team felt we were going to lose,” King said. “We were playing phenomenal lately.”

Southern 2, St. Joseph 0

Game scores: 25-22, 25-20; Highlights: (SR) Gesicki 10 kills, 7 blocks; Ficken 5 kills; Lee 4 kills, 3 blocks; Logue 2 blocks; King 21 assists, 3 blocks; Necamp 5 digs; Reed 4 digs; (SJ) Dacey 2 kills, 25 assists; Finan 6 kills, 4 digs; Records: Southern (36-4); St. Joseph (41-5)

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