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Sachem North is hungry to repeat its state championship run in boys volleyball

Sachem North's Rob Nolan celebrates in the NYSPHSAA

Sachem North's Rob Nolan celebrates in the NYSPHSAA boys volleyball championship match against McQuaid Jesuit on Friday, Nov. 14, 2014. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Sachem North's offseason motivation last year came from a heartbreaking playoff loss.

This season, the Flaming Arrows can draw inspiration from their postseason success.

Sachem North went undefeated and dropped only one set last season, en route to being the first team from Suffolk County to win the Class A state championship, and returning starters Matt Grace and Rob Nolan are hungry to repeat.

"We've been focused on getting back that feeling of winning again," said Grace, who had 142 kills and 76 digs last season. "Really, that's what's been motivating us, to stay on top."

"We have a target on our backs now that we're state champs, and we've been working harder than ever," said Nolan, a libero who had 116 digs. "It adds some pressure, but we play well under pressure."

That was evident throughout the postseason last year, including the county semifinals, where Sachem North defeated rival Sachem East, avenging a loss in the 2013 playoffs that ended North's bid for a perfect season.

Grace, Nolan, and fellow senior Adam Bloomfield helped key the postseason run, as all three were named to the all-county tournament team. Bloomfield, who had 33 blocks and a 49.4-percent hitting rate, was also an all-state tournament performer.

Aside from the senior trio, Nolan said "people guys don't really know about this year are going to pull through for us."

This group includes outside hitter Paul Curaro, Neil Tufano and Sean Hannett, adding depth and versatility to a team that has not lost a regular-season match since 2012.

There is also Grace, who may not be a new name, but will be in a new position. He will be the setter this year, his third position in as many years, after starting his varsity career at libero and playing outside hitter last year.

Ward Melville is among the teams in a deep Suffolk looking to dethrone the reigning champions. The Patriots will be led by outside hitter Chris Allen, who had 315 kills last year, and setter Matt Lilley, who had 562 assists.

Middle hitter Kyle Biggers leads a well-rounded Sachem East team, and will be joined by outside hitters Matt Cole and Jack Rodriguez and rotating setters Dan O'Kefe and Casey Barfield.

Eastport-South Manor will also be in the mix in Class A, after winning the Long Island Class B championship last year. Tommy Ogeka, who was an all-state tournament performer, Ryan Byrne and Kyle Allen-Morabito return to lead the Sharks.

Will Flohr, Jason Koehler and Lindenhurst, Brendan Weller and Smithtown West, Nick Bitetto, Dominick DellaMarco and Northport, and Sean LeGuernic and Half Hollow Hills will be the other contenders. Bay Shore's Brian Weissert and Matt Hassel, and Hauppauge's Andrew Tsororos are other players to watch in Suffolk.

Plainview JFK, the reigning county champion in Nassau Class A, has a strong chance of repeating and will run its offense through setter Brian Maloney, who had 700 assists last year. Massapequa, led by libero A.J. Walsh, was a county finalist last season and should be a contender again this year.

Middle hitter Nick O'Malley, who is 6-5, returns for East Meadow and Farmingdale features outside hitter Matt DeLuca. Port Washington is rebuilding but should be competitive as well.

Bellmore JFK is the favorite in Nassau B, led by outside hitter Mike Ianniello.

Sam Zorfas will lead Jericho, and Ryan Engel and Nick Felicetti return for Floral Park, who will both be among Bellmore JFK's top competitors.

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