Bellmore JFK goes 23-0 en route to state crown

Bellmore JFK players celebrate on court moments after

Bellmore JFK players celebrate on court moments after winning the Division II final. (Nov. 18, 2012) Photo Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

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A 23-0 record and the school's first state championship in any sport puts Bellmore JFK's boys volleyball team in a class by itself.

"No one can ever do better than us," senior Jake Sherman said. "We set the standard."

Though the logical beginning to the story is the team's first practice, the Cougars' road to glory actually started way before that.

Call it a tale of two bus rides.

The first ride came after the 2011 Nassau County championship match. Bellmore JFK had just fallen to Floral Park. There would be no Long Island title, no trip to states, no chance to hoist a trophy. But instead of hanging their heads, the Cougars made a decision: They would work as hard as possible to make sure 2012 would end differently.

"Our coach [Dennis Ringel] always said, and I agree, that we lost counties last year so we could go further this year," senior Steven Gassert said. "Losing counties really set the stage. A couple weeks after we lost, we were all planning after-school workouts. That really fueled our passion to go out and give it everything we had this year."

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And they did. Bellmore JFK finished the regular season 18-0. The Cougars knew they were good -- not losing a match will do that -- but they still weren't sure how good.

Then the playoffs came. Consecutive 3-0 victories over Bethpage and Floral Park in the first two rounds set up a county championship match with West Hempstead.

"During that Floral Park game, we proved to ourselves that we had an opportunity to achieve our goal," senior Matt Murphy said.

The second bus ride was much more jubilant than the first. After earning a dramatic five-set victory over Eastport-South Manor in the Long Island championship, Bellmore JFK was headed to Glens Falls Civic Center for the state tournament the weekend of Nov. 17-18.

Unlike the 24 boys and girls teams that needed to survive that Saturday's marathon-like pool-play round, Bellmore JFK's division sent only two teams to states, setting up a winner-takes-the-title match on that Sunday with Lake Shore.

The extra day afforded them the opportunity to watch others compete, taking in the atmosphere of the large civic center without having to worry about winning.

Junior Gary Anderson, MVP of the Division II championship match, cited the trip to the arena the previous day as a factor in the victory.

"It calmed us down," he said. "We weren't in shock [Sunday] at how big the place was."

And much like they had early in the playoffs, Bellmore JFK disposed of the opponent quickly -- a 3-0 victory over Lake Shore showed no evidence of the Cougars being thrown by the size of the arena.

"I think we played one of our best matches of the season," Ringel said.

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Add a third bus ride. This one came the Monday morning after the state championship. Despite getting home only a few hours before having to return to school, the squad couldn't wait to step into the building and show off their medals.

"We were all pretty tired, but seeing everyone's faces in school and having everyone congratulate us was a really great feeling," Murphy said.

A feeling, as well as a few bus rides, that they'll never forget.

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