By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
John Spina knew that his Belleville High School boys’ volleyball team would be very competitive this season.
Spina just didn’t know how competitive.
The Buccaneers advanced to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV semifinals last Thursday with a straight set 25- 16, 25-16 victory over Lakeland Regional.
The Buccaneers, now 21-6, will face Wayne Valley in the semifinals Wednesday afternoon.
Needless to say, it’s been a fun run for the Buccaneers.
“I expected that we would have a good team,” said Spina, who doubles as the girls’ volleyball coach at Belleville in the fall. “But we did have to fill two big spots from last year.”
One of those spots came when junior Edward Edghill moved from outside hitter to middle hitter. Spina was taking a little bit of a gamble, putting Edghill inside, but it turned out to be a blessing.
“Edghill is a very versatile player,” Spina said of Edghill, who has collected 59 kills and 40 blocks this season. “He’s made us very hard to stop.” The other move was to find a temporary replacement for junior Marlon Rodriguez, who was suffering from a handful of injuries. Rodriguez is also a fine soccer player at the school.
So Spina looked to junior Raymond Cortez to replace Rodriguez.
“He’s our jack of all trades,” Spina said of Cortez. “His main position was defensive specialist, but we moved him to outside hitter.”
The two moves turned out to solidify the Buccaneers, as did the healthy return of Rodriguez, who has 80 kills, 102 digs and 65 service points, albeit in limited duty.
Junior Ammar Rahim is the team’s setter.
“He’s probably our most underrated kid,” Spina said. “He has springs in his legs. He can really stuff the ball.”
To go along with his incredible 555 assists and 33 kills, Rahim also has 30 blocks, 99 service points and 19 service aces.
“In the past, I used to have to call every play,” Spina said. “This year, Ammar runs it all by himself. He makes the calls. He also spreads the ball around and keeps everyone happy. I would rank him right up there with the best setters in the state.”
Senior Brandon Ojeda is one of the Bucs’ top reserves.
“We bring him in off the bench, because he does whatever we need him to do,” Spina said. “He was playing defensive specialist for us, but we moved him up. If Brandon was on another team, he would probably start. He’s that talented.”
Cortez earns the distinction of being “the most improved player,” according to Spina.
“He’s become so much of a better player.” Spina said. “He’s such a positive influence on the floor.”
Cortez has accrued 131 digs for the season, along with 126 service points and 19 service aces.
Junior Douglas Fonseca is another rapidly improving player.
“He’s improved dramatically,” Spina said. “We brought him in as a blocker, but now he’s hitting the ball hard, so we use him as a hitter. He’s progressed very nicely and I like what he brings to the table.”
Fonseca has 14 blocks, 23 kills and 54 service points this season.
The key to the Buccaneers’ success is junior outside hitter P.J. Gencarelli, who plays every single position on the floor.
“In my opinion, I think he’s the best hitter in the state,” Spina said. “His vertical leap has improved and he hits from any place on the court. He blocks just as good as anyone and he’s a force at the net. His jump serve is the best I’ve ever seen. It’s unstoppable.”
Gencarelli has 319 kills and eclipsed the 500 kill mark for his career earlier this year. He has 139 digs, 137 service points and 63 service aces. He also has 29 blocks.
“He really does it all,” Spina said.
Senior Edward Peralta is the team’s middle blocker. He has 83 blocks on the season, as well as 112 kills and 104 service points.
“He’s a very hard worker,” Spina said of Peralta.
Kevin Vicente is the team’s libero. He has been playing competitive volleyball for only two seasons.
“He is the guy who sets the pace for us,” Spina said of Vicente, who has 224 digs.
The Buccaneers have their sights on another upset in the state tournament. A year ago, the Bucs upset Wayne Valley. Now, they get to see Wayne Valley again.
“It will be a battle,” Spina said. “We scrimmaged them early in the season. We hope to go in and upset them again.”
Nothing will deter the Buccaneers if their work ethic is any indication. A state sectional championship is now just two wins away.