Lakeland takes back Passaic County title by Sean Farrell of The Record
WAYNE – Connor Field wound up and let all the years of heartbreak go with one loud thud.
Finally, Lakeland is second no more.
The Lancers got their redemption for all the close calls with a 25-18, 25-11 win over Passaic in Saturday’s Passaic County boys volleyball championship and unleashed a celebration they’ve waited four years for. It was a long time coming for the school from Wanaque that fell short in back-to-back finals and in last year’s North 1 state title match.
Field delivered the knockout blow with a resounding spike, and led his team with 11 kills and nine service points.
“I don’t think they were going to be denied,” coach Brian Phillips said. “They were focused. They’ve put in so much time and effort during the season and outside the season, in the weight room, for their club. To see them finally get over the hump and achieve their goal is so satisfying as a coach.”
Lakeland can call itself the king of Passaic County boys volleyball. With nine titles, the Lancers are the most decorated program and double up everyone but Wayne Valley.
The chemistry and experience throughout the lineup made the Lancers unstoppable in Saturday’s match. Seniors Sean and Chris Nieves both had four kills, while senior setter Ben Donatien had 20 assists.
“Our skill has always been high,” Field said. “But we’ve haven’t been able to click. This year, we’ve really clicked as a team. When you get in a drought, you have to stick together as a team. It’s easy to get angry at someone else when there’s a mistake. But when that happens, that’s when your teammates need you the most.”
Clearing the final hurdle wasn’t easy for Lakeland.
Passaic (17-2) has made quite a Cinderella run under Omar Muñoz, after having five straight losing seasons. Muñoz asked his players before the season whether they wanted to have fun or compete, and their answer has been clear. Before Saturday, the Indians had not been to a Passaic County final since winning the inaugural tournament in 1997.
“You can never underestimate a team,” Donatien said. “Last year, we were the No. 1 seed and got beat by a two seed. So you have to be prepared for anything. You always got to treat the other team like they’re better than you.”
The final play of the championship developed like so many others for Lakeland. It ended with Donatien and Field, close friends off the court with an unspoken connection on it. After Donatien passed the ball to the center, Field stepped into it and used all of his 6-foot-5 frame to smack a shot that was blocked but not returned.
“It’s big that they can communicate,” Phillips said. “They’re very similar to brothers. Sometimes, they argue with each other. But in the end, they figure it out and stick together. And it’s not just those two. It’s the whole team. They all hang out together. They’re good friends with each other on and off the court. They always say ‘family’ and I really think they are.”