Lancers motivated by runner-up finishes in 2017
The Lakeland boys’ volleyball team doesn’t need any additional motivation this season or pep talk to fire them up. They have all they need to succeed already stored in the back of their minds.
After finishing in the runner-up spot in both the Passaic County and North 1 state tournaments a year ago, the Lancers are off to a 6-0 start this season and have their sights set on a championship season.
“This team is using last season as motivation and to set goals for this year,” said head coach Brian Phillips. “Every player on this team knows how close we came last year. We’re experienced and know what it takes to win. But they all know that they need to go out there and work for it and earn it. No one is going to hand them anything.”
Through the first two weeks of the season, the Lancers have swept all six of their opponents in regular-season competition. They have shutout victories over Wayne Hills, West Milford, Wayne Valley, Passaic County Tech, Fair Lawn and Passaic Valley.
Lakeland returns a cast of experienced players this season that were instrumental in the team’s success last spring. Six seniors are on the roster, including returning starters Connor Field, setter Ben Donatien, libero Zach Ferralasco and Chris and Sean Nieves.
Senior Alexander Stallworth gets the start after playing mostly on the junior varsity last year and junior Ethan Dispoto is back on the floor along with junior Josh Caggiano. Sophomores Roger Sillsbury and Faitjon Zuta are expected to contribute.
“We’ve played well to start the year, but there’s room for improvement,” Phillips said. “Most of our players are back from last year’s team and some have moved to different positions.”
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Despite the early-season success, Phillips is quick to point out to his team their performances against out-of-conference competition.
“I tell the boys all the time that the results and performances in other state-wide tournaments doesn’t count towards the regular-season standings,” Phillips admitted. “They’re only going to get better by facing some of the top teams in the state and participating in quality tournaments. We may be 6-0, but we’ve had some challenging games and tournament matches that don’t show up in the standings.”
Earlier this month, the Lancers participated in the competitive Bloomfield Bengal Tournament where they finished second in pool play. Lakeland finished 2-3 on the day, with losses against state-ranked and tournament champions, Bridgewater-Raritan, as well as JP Stevens and Hunterdon Central. Their victories were against host-school Bloomfield and Fair Lawn.
Other teams that participated in the tournament included Christian Brothers Academy, Livingston, St. Joseph-Metuchen, Bayonne, Linden and Coventry (RI) to name a few.
“It was a really competitive tournament and some of the best teams in the state were there,” Phillips said. “We played well, but we also struggled at the same time. I thought we did a good job against Bridgewater-Raritan. They’re one of the top teams in New Jersey and we played with them the entire match. We’ll build off the tournament and it will make us a better team.”
This past weekend the Lancers participated in the annual Livingston Lancer Invitational at Livingston High School. The Lancers finished 2-4 in pool play and were eliminated by host-school Livingston in the playoff round.
Lakeland played without Donatien, who had rolled his ankle leading up to the tournament.
“We were at a disadvantage playing without Ben,” Phillips said. “It changed our approach and how we played. But again, we saw some great competition, which will only help us later next month come tournament time.”
Once again, Bridgewater-Raritan came away with the title, defeating CBA for the second time in as many weeks and winning their second-straight tournament title after winning the Bloomfield Invitational last Saturday.
Other heavyweights that participated included Fair Lawn, St. Peter’s Prep, Old Bridge, Wayne Valley and Bayonne, to name a few.
In last year’s PCT, top-seed Lakeland dropped a 2-0 match to No. 2 Wayne Valley and lost 2-1 to Fair Lawn in the North 1 State Tournament.
“I think the outcome and disappointment last season will keep us motivated this year,” Phillips said.
This weekend the Lancers play in the seventh annual Verde-McNeill Passaic Valley Invitational Tournament. The event features host school Passaic Valley as well as Wayne Hills, Wayne Valley, Vernon, Belleville and Clifton.
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