Fair Lawn fights to the end in state final by Greg Tartaglia of The Record
SOUTH BRUNSWICK – Joe Breuer kept digging out spikes. Dan Sedaka and Neve Adler got passes to setter Dan Donenfeld. Billy Joyce and Porus Pallupetta were leaping for well-timed blocks at the net.
Fair Lawn did all that on one prolonged rally late in Thursday’s state boys volleyball final, as it tried to fend off another Southern Regional run.
Then came a whistle. The Cutters were called for a carry on one of their diving dig attempts, giving Southern a side out and a 22-17, second-set lead. The Rams went on to close out a 25-13, 25-18 win and earn their second straight championship.
Fair Lawn finished 28-9 thanks to a resolve that took it from being a good team in April to being an excellent one in the postseason.
“I just knew that I didn’t want my season to end with me not going as hard as I could,” Breuer said.
“That [attitude] carried us throughout the state tournament in the North, and that’s what defined us,” Cutters coach Peter Zisa said. “There just couldn’t have been enough of that in this game, because they were very ‘in system’.”
A balanced Southern (39-1) attack flowed through senior setter Brennan Davis, who logged match highs in assists (26) and digs (nine).
Fair Lawn had the first set tied, 7-7, before the Rams went on a 5-0 run highlighted by a Davis block. He set middle Shane Bent with quicks inside and fed opposite Collin Lockwood outside during a 9-0 run that put the first set out of reach.
The Cutters found their groove in the second set, as Donenfeld spread the ball around to Joyce, Sedaka and Ron Erushalismki and combined with Matteo DeGennaro on a block that tied it, 16-16.
Bent (12 kills) and Zack Hem went on the attack to power Southern to five straight points, but Fair Lawn got a side out to stay within 21-17 and made the adjustments necessary to start the marathon volley.
“I liked the resilience and the fight we brought forward in the second set,” Zisa said. “But ultimately, Southern’s a team with a lot of weapons.”
Lockwood punctuated the match with his ninth kill, dealing the Cutters their first loss in a state final since 2004. They had defeated the Rams in the 2011 and 2012 title matches.
Despite the understandable disappointment in Fair Lawn’s postgame huddle, the coaches’ focus was on the positive.
“In terms of the amount of growth demonstrated by a team that I’ve coached, I don’t think any team has shown what this one has, from where they started to where they ended the season,” Zisa said. “I’m extremely proud of what they’ve done.”
“Everybody kind of doubted that we’d make it this far,” said Joyce. “It was just our hard work all throughout the season, just always pushing – that’s what brought us back to here.”