Bellmore JFK’s defense of its state Division II boys volleyball title took a turn for the better Thursday afternoon with the return of top playmaker Cooper Moran from a lower back issue. It put the Cougars at full strength for the first time this season and gave them the psychological lift to pull out a five-set victory and hand visiting Long Beach its first loss of the season.
“When you get someone back who has been All-County two years in a row, it definitely helps,” Jonathan Ivers said following the 25-23, 26-24, 15-25, 22-25, 15-13 Nassau I-B triumph. “The energy it brings all of us on the court is a real boost. We’d been to a fifth set twice and lost them both, but we got over the top today.”
Ryan Henga had 11 kills, Matt Ehrlich had nine kills, Ivers managed 27 digs and Sam Schwinger had 13 assists against the ferocious-spiking Marines. Moran — playing about half the number of points he usually does — had 13 assists for Bellmore JFK (3-5).
Evan Michaels had 13 kills, Brian Corrigan had 10 kills and Dominick Cieleski had 32 assists for Long Beach (7-1).
Moran, Ehrlich and Max Hiller all missed games with injuries as the Cougars got out of the gate slowly. However their championship pedigree — JFK has won the last four Nassau B titles and the past two Long Island B crowns — was on full display.
Perhaps on a wave of emotion, JFK won a pair of close sets and then got bludgeoned in the third.
“They handled the fact they got beat up in the third set and they turned the page really well,” Cougars coach Dennis Ringel said. “To be refocused for the fourth and have it be a nail-biter said something. And to come out well in the fifth and win said even more.”
The Marines rallied from a 17-12 deficit to win the fourth with five points coming on kills by either Corrigan of Dylan Goldstein. In the fifth set, however, they gave up six points on serves.
“We’ve been like this all year — really erratic — but it’s the first time that we didn’t pull it together for the fifth game,” Long Beach coach Bill Gibson said. “We won our other two five-set matches because we got it together to play well. We didn’t get a single real kill in that fifth set [today]. We were more playing to not lose and you can’t win that way.”
Asked whether it was difficult to watch his team stumble out of the gate, Moran replied “I was very proud of the team because we may not have been winning games, but we’ve been getting better and that’s what will really count for us.”
With this win under their belts, the Cougars hope to take the rest of the season in a new direction.
“We’re going to take every game for what it is and try to keep improving so we are playing our best at the end. We’ll see where it gets us,” Moran said. “We can’t change what’s behind us, but we can move forward.”