By Warren Rappleyea
With the bulk of its lineup back and an influx of talented newcomers, Old Bridge High School’s boys’ volleyball team is looking for a return to prominence.
Last season, Knights coach Andrew Hopman fielded a young team and, at times, Old Bridge struggled. At other times, Old Bridge showed its potential, such as in a three-set loss to eventual state champion Southern Regional High School, where each game was decided by two points. The team sat at 8-12 and needed to win four straight to qualify for the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Central Jersey tournament.
“That really put the pressure on our guys, and they responded,” Hopman said. “They ended up winning five straight, and we qualified. Our guys kept getting better and better as the season went on and even though we lost to Southern, it was a great experience. We have a lot of talent, and we can match up with anyone.”
The Knights — a perennial power in the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) — appear poised to once again challenge for the title, which they last won in 2012. Leading the group of returnees is junior Elan Dorkhman, who led the Knights with more than 300 kills and 27 aces while also recording 150 digs. Senior Vladimir Kucheriavvy is also back after a strong 106-kill season.
In the middle, juniors Randall Anderson and Mike Schon recorded 87 and 79 kills, respectively. Sophomore outside hitter Andrew Zaleck, the only freshman to start under Hopman, topped the Knights with 25 blocks while also contributing 82 kills and 58 digs.
Setter Brian McGeehan is coming off a season that saw him pile up 541 assists, and libero Grant Totten, a junior, posted 231 digs to lead the team
“I’m proud of what our guys did last year,” Hopman said. “This year, expectations are higher, and we have as much depth as we did in 2010 when we went to the sectional final. There will be a lot of competition for playing time. There’s a lot of energy and excitement. The guys know we have the talent to win.”
Some of that competition will come from a bevy of sophomores who helped last year’s freshman team to an undefeated record and the GMC title.
Senior Teddy Ha has looked good in early practice. Junior Andy Patel and sophomores Logan Albrecht and Joe Cantone are all vying for minutes as outside hitters. Another sophomore, Josh DeWitt, is a natural libero. Junior Antonio Rocchio and sophomore Justin Touhy are both competent setters.
As usual, Hopman’s team will have the usual array of difficult opponents, including Hunterdon Central Regional High School, Bridgewater-Raritan High School, Southern Regional High School, Hillsborough High School, Livingston High School, Eastern Regional High School and Saint John Vianney High School. There’s also tough conference foes in Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen, East Brunswick High School, John P. Stevens High School and South Brunswick High School.
“If you want to contend in the postseason, you have to prepare by playing tough teams,” Hopman said. “If you can’t win some of those matches, you’re not going to be able to get very far in the tournaments.”
Old Bridge is scheduled to open the season April 1 in Voorhees against Eastern. Two days later, the Knights will host South Brunswick before heading to St. Joe’s for a quad that also includes Hillsborough High School and Harrison High School April 5.