Jason Koehler is hoping to rewrite the narrative of Suffolk boys volleyball. If he has his way, Lindenhurst will be right up there in the conversation as the county’s most dangerous team by the end of the fall season.
A first-round playoff loss to Smithtown West certainly stung Koehler, a middle hitter who enters his senior season as one of the best individual talents on Long Island.
This year, Koehler intends to pen a triumphant final chapter to his varsity career and follow up a 7-8 campaign with a deep playoff run.
“I think we’re really underestimated because of the record we had last year,” he said. “We want to go to the county finals, that’s our plan. We can definitely do it. A lot of the teams this year, they’re good, but we’re just as good as they are. Why not us?”
The triumvirate of Smithtown West, Eastport-South Manor and Sachem North ruled Suffolk last season, while Northport and Smithtown East were also exceptional. Those five teams are expected to be near the top again, and Whitman’s 2-0 start has the Wildcats poised to compete as well.
Sachem North lost 3-0 to Smithtown West in the Suffolk A final, but hasn’t lost a regular season match on Long Island in four years. A deep roster with five returning starters is led by Dan LaRosa, Alec Lehnert and Connor Pallman, and despite a preseason No. 3 seed, coach Matt Rivera is confident.
“I do think that we’re all pretty close this year,” Rivera said, “but I see us in that final.”
Smithtown West, the defending Long Island Class A champions, have star power in Chris Shanley with strong supporting players in David DeRosa and Kevin Kelleher.
Eastport-South Manor won its first state Class B championship last fall and returns Tommy Ogeka and Brennen Brandow, a player coach Bruce Stiriz expects to have an immense impact on the Sharks in his senior year.
The hierarchy of Suffolk volleyball has plenty of dynamic individuals, and although Lindenhurst had Koehler last season, it’s their newfound depth and chemistry that could spell more success.
“It doesn’t seem like they care who’s going to get the credit; they just want to win this year,” said coach Stacie Wixted, whose Bulldogs won their first match against Half Hollow Hills in straight sets. “I believe we’re one of the top four teams in the county. We’re going to have to play pretty error free to keep up with those guys, but we’re working on it.”
Middle and right-side hitter Troy VonHolt is Koehler’s running mate, giving the Bulldogs a stellar one-two punch. Setter Vinny Sottile is the team’s on-court general. Senior outside hitters and captains Tommy Renick and Chris Madlon are consistent hitters and blockers.
If there were ever a year for Lindenhurst to make noise, it’s this one.
Nassau’s top contenders
Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK lost to Smithtown West in the Long Island Class A championship game, but coach Russi Villalta returns setter Michael Biscardi, outside hitter Nick Galasso and others, making the Hawks the team to beat yet again.
But Massapequa, Long Beach and Port Washington have the players to knock the Hawks out of the top spot. It could be so competitive that the top spot isn’t decided until late this fall.
Bellmore JFK, the returning Nassau Class B champions, have game-changing players in Steven Carlson and Josh Kaplan. Jericho and Bethpage could be the Cougars’ main competition, but Carlson and Kaplan coul be the best individuals in Nassau Class B, giving Bellmore JFK an advantage.
PRESEASON TOP 10
1. Eastport-South Manor
2. Smithtown West
3. Sachem North
4. Bellmore JFK
5. Plainview JFK
6. Smithtown East
7. Long Beach