Bellmore JFK boys volleyball was pushed to its limit Saturday afternoon, and though the Cougars came up just short of a state title, they left the gym feeling proud.
The Cougars fell to Buffalo Eden in five sets in the Division II state boys volleyball final at Suffolk-CCC Brentwood, losing 20-25, 25-19, 25-21, 20-25, 8-15.
“We told each other after the match, ‘We wouldn’t trade being a runner-up on this team for being a champion on another team,’” said Josh Kaplan, who was named to the all-tournament team along with Tyler Anderson. “That’s how much it meant to us to be a part of this team.”
“No matter what, today was going to be our last day,” middle hitter Steven Carlson said. “It didn’t work out how we wanted but I’m still proud of what we did this season.”
Prior to the final, Bellmore JFK (18-4) needed to play an extra set just to advance after all three teams in the field finished the preliminary round with a 2-2 record. Eden advanced automatically thanks to its superior point differential, setting up a tie-breaking set between the Cougars and Saratoga Burnt Hills. Bellmore JFK won, 25-21, but had to then face a rested Eden team.
“It was very tough,” said Anderson, who totaled 67 kills over the 10 sets. “We just had to keep a positive attitude and keep going.”
Added Kaplan (29 kills): “We knew it was going to be a long day coming in. We just needed to mentally and physically push ourselves and that’s how we got to the final.”
Cooper Moran had 101 assists, Carlson had 22 kills and 12 blocks and Jordan Kappel had five aces, while also sparking a series of runs with his serving.
The Cougars were making their first appearance in the state tournament since reaching the final in 2013, one year after becoming the first Long Island boys volleyball team to win a state title.
“You can’t ask more of a group of guys,” coach Dennis Ringel said. “To say they left everything out on the court is an understatement.”
After the intense tiebreaking set, Bellmore JFK held tough in the opening frame of the championship match before losing the final six points. The Cougars responded with a strong finish of their own to win the second set, with their victory in the third following a similar pattern.
Eden pushed back in the fourth and did not look back after grabbing the lead midway through the set.
Carlson said he and his fellow seniors hope the returning Cougars build off this run next year. “Hopefully the guys behind us realize how special it was to be here and they gained experience that will get them back,” he said.
On those seniors themselves, Ringel said, “regardless of what their role was, they all led in their own way. It was a special group of guys.”
Said Kaplan: “Between the time we spent together on and off the court and everyone being there for each other all the time, I’m going to remember everything about this team.”