Finding a turning point for last season wasn’t very hard when it came to the Bridgewater-Raritan High School volleyball team.
The Panthers went 0-4 May 10 without starters Dan Gallagher (appendicitis) and Mitchell Repak (back) at the “Super Six Showcase’’, a gathering of New Jersey volleyball royalty at St. Joseph in Metuchen.
“We realized it wasn’t going to come easy,’’ said senior setter B.J. Blair, last year’s Courier News Player of the Year.
Less than a month later, the Panthers were Central champions for the first time in eight years, receiving a huge emotional boost May 20 when Gallagher and Repak returned.
“The team rallied around that,’’ said B-R coach Corey Romanak, in his 17th year leading the Panthers.
The momentum built down the stretch – highlighted by avenging a Super Six loss to top seed St. Joseph in the sectional final – has been sustained, said coach
“They are starting where they left off,’’ said Romanak.
They start anew Wednesday at rival Hillsborough, which shared the Somerset County Cup with the Panthers last season. Bridgewater-Raritan finished 23-7, losing to two-time state champ Southern Regional in the state semi.
“We are pretty balanced,’’ said Romanak. “It’s not so much about their skill, but determination. These kids have a passion for the game.’’
The team will once again be led by co-captains Blair and senior libero Niko Lambert and Gallagher, a senior outside hitter. Senior middle blocker Matt Morin returns along with junior outiside Kevin Ros along with junior opposite Tim Fisieler and junior middle Andrew Amerman, who stands 6-foot-7. Ros and Fisieler gained valuable experience subbing for Gallagher and Repak when they were out.
“We should be fairly good again, we have a good core returning, practice has been going well and so have the scrimmages, all good signs, but we have to go out and do it,’’ said Blair, who’s had 93 kills, 96 blocks, 293 digs, 38 aces and 1,188 assists in his two-year varsity career.
Blair had 554 assists and Lambert 227 digs — so the core is certainly present for another run to the final four. Gallagher had 126 kills and Morin delivered 124. Graduated middle Grant Berrios (90 kills, 23 blocks), outside Dan Kim (114 kills, 106 digs), and Repak (111 kills) will be missed.
Enough experience appears to be back for the Panthers have enough to not just get back to the final four, but perhaps a state final, something they haven’t done since 2006 when they lost to St.Joseph in the state final. In 2005, Romanak had the kind of year that coaches dream of — leading the girls and boys to state titles.
Bridgewater-Raritan and East Brunswick both have won six state titles — the most in the state. Can the Panthers add a seventh this season?
Blair feels experience was the main thing that stopped the Panthers from getting to a state final last year. Southern beat the Panthers 2-0 (25-23, 25-23) in the state semi. Southern has won two state titles, and was beaten by Fair Lawn in the 2013 final.
“We had a little lack of experience, none of us had been there or been in that situation,’’ said Blair.”They had last year and the two years before. It was really the experience of them being there.’’
Harry Frezza: email@example.com