John Lisella would be the first to admit that neither he nor his Lyndhurst boys volleyball team were particularly happy about their 6-14 regular season record.
But despite a less than stellar regular season record, Lyndhurst had earned a spot in the North Jersey, Group 1 Tournament as the 13th seed. So when the Golden Bears traveled to Newark on Thursday to face fourth-seeded Science Park it was an opportunity to start anew.
“I said to them before the game that ‘our regular season was up and down, but now everyone’s 0-0,’” said Lisella, Lyndhurst’s third-year head coach. “We don’t know them, they don’t know us, so let’s come out and show them what we got.”
In what was one of its best performances of the season, Lydnhurst upset the home Chargers, 25-22, 23-25, 25-18 to earn its first ever state tournament win.
Junior Matt Slaby, a 6-foot-4 opposite hitter, led the way with a career-high 20 kills to go with six blocks and five digs in a dominant performance. Setter Robert Dasler Jr. had 17 assists as he and Slaby proved to be an unstoppable tandem.
“Matt Slaby played one of the best games I’ve ever seen. He absolutely dominated,” Lisella said. “Those two were locked in and they definitely have a great connection. They’re probably the best friends on the team. We looked to them to get those points at the end to win.”
Cyprian Niedbal had five kills with 10 digs in the win, the biggest in program history. Bartu Akar recorded 12 digs, Max Dmochowski had 11 and Dasler added eight as Lyndhurst showed the potential that Lisella had seen in early games such as a 25-21, 25-22 loss to state power Harrison on April 21.
“We have the guys,” Lisella said. “But we weren’t getting that final result that we were looking for during the year.”
Lyndhurst advances to face a familiar foe in the quarterfinals on Wednesday when it faces fifth-seeded Bergen Charter. The Golden Bears dropped a three-set match to Bergen Charter,19-25, 25-20, 22-25 on May 9, but if Thursday’s opener was any indication, it’s best to not put too much stock in that regular season contest.
“It’s massive,” said Lisella of the program that is in just its ninth year of existence. “The guys are fired up, I’m fired up and we’re not done yet.”
Lyndhurst wasn’t the only local boys volleyball program to make history on Thursday. Nutley, in just its second season of existence, won its first ever state tournament game when it defeated Teaneck, 25-19, 25-13 in the first round of the North Jersey, Group 2 tournament. Alex Tramontana had 10 kills and Gavin Warburton added nine for Nutley (20-4). Joseph Duca contributed 20 assists and four aces.
The Maroon Raiders look to continue their incredible season on Wednesday when it hosts seventh-seeded Ramapo in the quarterfinals.
In North Jersey, Group 3, fifth-seeded Kearny survived a scare from county rival St. Peter’s Prep before earning a 25-27, 25-20, 25-21 win. Adrian Moran had 25 assists as he masterfully spread the ball as Gabriel Ferreira recorded nine kills, Yuri Dos Santos added seven and Giuseppe Adami had five.
Kearny travels to fourth-seeded Randolph in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
Belleville’s run in North Jersey, Group 3 came to an end as the Buccaneers dropped a 25-22, 25-22 decision at seventh-seeded Ridge despite a fine all-around performance from Jonriz Palmares, who had seven kills, seven digs, two blocks and seven assists. Gabriel Campos added seven kills and nine blocks.
In North Jersey, Group 4, third-seeded Bloomfield rallied past an upset-minded Montclair, 19-25, 25-20, 25-20. Ellis Gomez-McPherson was a force in the front with 12 kills and seven blocks. Esaias Edwards had 11 kills with eight digs and Jacob Moreno added 26 assists and seven digs for the Bengals, who host 11th-seeded West Orange in the quarterfinals.
Harrison, currently ranked No. 4 in the state by NJ.com, earned a first round bye in the North Jersey, Group 1 Tournament. The Blue Tide, considered the favorite to win, Group 1, begins its tournament run on Wednesday against eighth-seeded Montclair Immaculate.
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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 (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)