MANAHAWKIN – When it comes to boys volleyball, Southern Regional quickly comes to mind as one of the premier programs around, not only in the Shore Conference, but the entire state of New Jersey.
Being able to play into early June, deep into the NJSIAA state tournament is what many teams would consider to be a great season. In fact, many teams would be honored to be one of the 64 clubs that get invited to play for the state crown. For Southern Regional, the only thing that constitutes a successful season is being the final team standing.
The run for the Rams has been dominating to say the least. Southern has won 10 straight South Jersey Tournament championships, reaching the overall state title game in all 10 seasons.
Southern has won six overall state titles since 2009, claiming their spot in New Jersey volleyball history in 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017. The six titles rank second all-time in the state behind only Bridgewater-Raritan, who has won seven overall state titles – with five of those coming between 1989 and 1994.
Among the senior cast has been Matt Maxwell, a four-year varsity starter and son of head coach Eric Maxwell. Over the course of his four-year career, the Rams have accumulated a record of 136-10, and have won two state championships.
Being labeled as the best team in the state can come with its challenges. There is a target on the collective backs of the Rams, who have remained on their perch for most of the last decade. However, there are very few teams that have been able to knock the Rams from the top of the state rankings. In the latest rankings by New Jersey Advanced Media, Southern Regional was ranked No. 3, and have not dropped out of the top five during this season.
So far this season, Southern Regional has gone 27-2, and much of the success can be attributed to Maxwell’s excellent senior campaign. The 5-10 senior has racked up over 500 assists this year alone, putting up at least 20 assists in 12 of his team’s first 29 matches. Over his career, Maxwell is approaching 1,600 assists, and has just recently eclipsed the 1,000 plateau in digs as well.
Perhaps the highlight of his senior season to date has been being named the Most Valuable Player at the annual Southern Regional invitational tournament that the Rams host in Manahawkin every spring. On April 27, the Rams defeated Colts Neck in the semifinals and Sterling in the championship game to once again win the title.
Maxwell produced 41 assists on 10 digs during the two games to earn him the MVP for the second time in his career, becoming just the second player to accomplish that feat at the event.
Southern would not be on pace to win at least 30 matches for the 11th straight season without a strong cast of seniors, and a mix of younger players who are taking the preparations to carry the torch once the upperclassmen graduate. Flanking Maxwell on the court have been fellow seniors Logan Lipositz and Derek Medenilla, who are first and second on the squad in digs this season, respectively.
Corey Galloway, Zack Hem, Anthony LeBlanc and Drew Wligus are also members of the class of 2019 that have made contributions to the team’s streak this year.
Lipositz has taken a major step forward in his second season on the varsity squad, and entering postseason play, is leading the team with over 200 digs and is closing in on 200 service points. Medenilla is approaching 100 service points on the year and has accredited 121 digs to his name so far.
Behind the senior heavy lineup has been some contribution from the underclassmen as well. Juniors Justin Kean and Jack Healy have made significant efforts at the varsity level this year, while Ethan Case and Tommy Deakyne are two sophomores getting playing time this season.
Kean has been the Rams’ go-to offensive threat; leading the team with 220 kills, over 100 more than the next closest Ram in the category. Kean has also been a help on the defensive side as well and should reach triple digits in the upcoming weeks.
Kean has stepped up for a team that has lost all three of their top offensive threats from last season’s state finalist team. Arvind Kumar (306) and Shane Bent (244) are no longer with the program, but replacing the offense has not appeared to be a problem for Southern.
Zach Hem had 264 kills as a junior a year ago, but had missed the first 25 games this season. He returned to the court on May 2 and has 36 kills and 13 digs in just four contests. He will be a welcomed edition to a lineup that was already capable of challenging for another state title without him.
The Shore Conference Tournament final is scheduled for May 16 at Georgian Court University in Lakewood, and Southern is expected to be one of the finalists after earning the top seed. The Rams won the SCT title in 2018, defeating second-seeded Christian Brothers Academy, 2-0.
Southern would like an SCT title to be an appetizer for the main course; an 11th consecutive trip to the state championship game on June 6 at South Brunswick High School.
There are still weeks remaining before the final game of the season, and the Rams will not take the road lightly. The notion of keeping “the streak” alive will be enough to motivate this group to try and finish off the job for the seventh time in school history, and bring another trophy to the halls in Manahawkin.