Fair Lawn Repeats as Boys Volleyball State Champion
The underdog Cutters upended top seed Southern in three sets Thursday to repeat as boys volleyball state champions.
In the end, the Cutters' state title hopes rested on a single set.
Southern Regional, the heavy favorite, had just run away with the second set of the match to even things at one set apiece and needed only one more set win to re-claim the state crown from Fair Lawn.
"The mood was down," Fair Lawn coach Peter Zisa said. "I thought they'd lost some confidence."
With the season hanging in the balance, Zisa set out to refocus his team before it became consumed by Southern's momentum. He reminded his players what he'd told them going into the match -- that the more mentally tough team would prevail.
"[Southern] really rides off of momentum that they create with their defense," Zisa said. "I told them we needed to match that intensity and do the same with our defense, and if we did that we could change the tide in the game."
The final set went point for point until about halfway through when Fair Lawn middle hitters Nick Amos and Chris Colomier stepped up with a handful of key blocks that turned the tide for the Cutters.
"That gave us the cushion and we were able to side out the rest of the way when we needed to," said Zisa, whose Cutters won the final set 25-22, to repeat as state volleyball champions.
It's the second straight year Fair Lawn has defeated the Ocean County volleyball powerhouse in the state title match.
"They say that after you win one, it always gets tougher," Zisa said. "I just feel like it's so much sweeter the second time having been there before and being able to do it again."
This year's title was both sweeter and more dramatic for the Cutters, who entered Thursday's match as underdogs and had to overcome injuries to two major players during their postseason run.
"After those injuries, it definitely put a hurt on our psyche and our confidence," said Zisa, who lost captains Chris Nugent (ankle) and Luke St. John (concussion) to injuries just days before the county tournament championship against Don Bosco.
"That Don Bosco performance," Zisa said, "losing to them (in the counties) and then beating them (in the states, after Nugent and St. John returned), I think that’s what regerenated us in terms of our confidence level and we rode it all the way through."
Aside from the crunch time defense Fair Lawn got Thursday from its middle hitters, the Cutters also received solid offensive performances from Colomier (14 service points) and Nugent (22 kills).
Zisa said he was also proud of the play of his libero, junior Charles Gigante.
After a great first game Thursday -- both passing as well as defensively -- Gigante struggled mightily in the second game.
"Part of the reason for such a gap in the score (13-25) was our passing broke down. We could not get the ball to the setter off of their serves," Zisa said. "[Gigante] apologized to me and I said, 'Don’t worry about it. Just focus on being better on your next opportunity.'"
The junior libero took heed, regained focus and put on a great performance in game three.
"He passed well and played exceptional defense," Zisa said. "It made a big difference."
On top of the Cutters' strong serving and defense, Zisa said it was the team's never say die attitude and mental toughness thoughout the match that led them to victory over the Rams, whom they'd twice fallen to earlier in the season.
Not only did they bounce back to take the series after a blowout loss in game two, the team also overcame a late five-point deficit in the first game.
"We were losing 22-17 and I called my second timeout and I told them that they were still in this game they just needed to fight for evey point and change the momentum," Zisa said. "We ended up going on a seven point run and making it 24-22," en route to a 25-23 victory.
"What a great moment for the school," athletic director Cory Robinson said after the match. “It just shows what great things can be accomplished when you have a great coach working with kids that put 100 percent effort into the program.”
Robinson said the team would likely be honored at this month's Board of Education meeting on June 25.