AOTW: By getting everyone involved, Palmares, Belleville is thriving

With the way Jonriz Palmares spreads the ball around to all of his teammates and runs the Belleville offense, it would be easy to assume that he’s been a setter for many years.

However, the Buccaneers senior is still a relative newcomer position, just a few weeks into his second year at the position after initially playing outside hitter.

A little more than a year after making the move, one he admittedly wasn’t ecstatic about initially, Palmares is one of the state’s best at the position.

Palmares has 217 assists on the season, including 20 in the Bucs’ win over Orange in the first round of the Essex County Tournament. He also had 20+ assists in wins against Bloomfield and Payne Tech and in a loss to state power Fair Lawn, which is currently ranked No. 4 in the state by, Palmares had 13 assists and eight digs.

Palmares’ performance makes him The Observer Athlete of the Week. For the season, Palmares has 217 assists, 20 kills and eight blocks for a Belleville squad that sits at 8-3 heading into the Essex County Boys Volleyball Tournament quarterfinals.

“It was definitely something I didn’t like (initially),” Palmares said. I was iffy about it. I didn’t know how to set. But I definitely see myself as a setter now and I actually enjoy it.

“It’s a hard thing to do, especially when you’re getting right into it. It took me 10-12 games to actually get into it as a setter. I definitely know how to run (the offense). I feel like my vision has opened up a little more on the court.”

Palmares admits that a year ago, he relied heavily on outside hitter Richmond Casino. While Casino had an impressive 285 kills, Belleville lacked balance on offense last season.

Following Casino’s graduation, Palamares and the Bucs have emphasized a much more diverse approach on offense. This year, three players – Casey Maramot, Gabriel Campos and Ryan Banach – are all on pace to approach 100 or more kills this season. Brandon Do and Joshua Nodong also have more than 20 kills so far, and are on pace for more than 50.

“Last season I had a great outside (Richmond Casino), and I kinda just put it up for him and not really thinking about my other teammates,” Palmares said.”This year, I have a great set of teammates where everyone can hit and I don’t have that feeling of using just one person anymore. I want to get everyone involved. I think it takes a weight off my outside hitters.

“Last year, he had that tendency when we had Richmond and we had the tendency to just go to Richmond all day,” said head coach John Spina. “That’s not the case this year, the hitters are all happy, he gets it to all the hitters every game and there’s never really a hitter that you can just lock in on.”

According to Spina, passing and getting everyone involved is just a part of Palmares’ game. The 6-foot-0 Palmares is a good defender, giving Spina the confidence to play him both in the back as well as in the front as a blocker. Spina also tries to mix him in a bit as a hitter, a position he played as a sophomore.

“The kid’s unbelievable,” Spina said. “I tell people all the time, you can take this kid and and you can plug him in on Old Bridge, or Scotch Plains-Fanwood, or Southern, or any of these top teams and they will not skip a beat. He does it all. He’s very athletic, very smart and very humble. He doesn’t know how good he is and he can play in college.

“He’s that type of kid that as a coach, you don’t get that type of player too often.”

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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer

Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)