Zhang leads Cougars to 2-0 win over Colonials

Zhang leads Cougars to 2-0 win over Colonials

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Zhang leads Cougars to 2-0 win over Colonials

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FREEHOLD

At 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, Hongliang Zhang is one of the biggest boys volleyball players in the Shore Conference.

On Tuesday, the Colts Neck High School senior put his size to good use.

Zhang blasted home a match-high seven kills and added three digs and two blocks, powering the Cougars past Freehold, 2-0, in Class A North in their regular-season opener.

“Hongliang is a great kid and one of our captains,” Colts Neck coach Glenn Jansen said. “During his sophomore year on the varsity, he played middle blocker. He played right side as a junior and returns there this year. He does everything we need him to do. He’s one of our best servers. He’s our best hitter.”

Zhang credited senior setter Dan Clayman, who handed out a match-best 15 assists, for a good deal of his success against the Colonials (0-2, 0-1).

“He’s a pretty good setter,” Zhang said.

Zhang came to the United States from China almost three years ago with his parents, Li and Liwu.

“The education is better here,” he said. “I have learned to speak English. Being bilingual makes you more useful. I am happy I am here. I have a lot of friends in school. They are nice to me.”

Zhang said he visited the Seaside Heights last year.

“I was there one time,” he said. “It’s pretty good. I loved the ocean. I like New Jersey the most. I like everything about New Jersey — the people, the weather, the air.”

Jansen said Zhang is enrolled in a Freehold Regional School District program which helps him speak English.

“I am speaking a lot more English than I did in China,” he said. “Learning it in class is tough as there is a lot more vocabulary in class than there is on the court.”

Jansen said he enjoys having Zhang on the team.

“He’s a great kid,” Jansen said. “Everyone loves him. He’s a joy to coach. He works hard in school. He’s one of the most loved athletes at Colts Neck High School.”

Zhang and senior outside hitter Jack Lind are the lone key returners from last year’s 19-6 team.

“We have a lot of freshmen on the team,” Zhang said, “and they are good players. I am teaching the young kids volleyball. I enjoy my teammates. We cheer each other on. We never give up. We play every ball.”

Lind contributed five digs, four kills and two aces.

“Jack and Hongliang are our offensive leaders,” Jansen said. “Jack has been on our varsity for three years. Our team runs through them. Jack is an extension of myself. There is a lot of myself in Jack. He plays with a quiet confidence. He is a hard worker. He is hard on himself. That’s what I want in a team leader. He is our best passer.”

The Cougars won by 25-12 and 25-18 scores. They closed the first game with a 15-4 run. Zhang keyed the avalanche with two kills. Zhang capped the second game with a kill.

“We made a couple of service errors,” Jansen said, “but as inexperienced as we are, I was happy with our play. This is a little bit of a crosstown rivalry. This was a complete team effort, a team effort.”

Senior setter-libero Joe Bock led Freehold with 10 assists, two digs and two blocks. Junior middle blocker Nick Krauss added five kills.

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