When the St. John Vianney, Holmdel, boys volleyball team defeated Passaic Charter, 2-0, on June 10 to win the NJSIAA Group I state championship, it was hard to believe the team’s nucleus began their high school careers with six straight losses as sophomores.
Faith guides SJV boys volleyball from rough soph start to state champs as seniors
But they had a weapon to overcome those early woes.
“When you start 0-7, you have to have faith,” coach Jessica Gadaleta said. “These kids have battled injuries; they’ve leaned on their faith to help them through adversity. Faith has been a central part of their experience.”
A key figure has been senior Zach Martin, who earned SJV’s Catholic Athletes for Christ Male Leadership Award for his involvement in charitable activities.
“He’s been such a great role model for the younger guys,” Gadaleta said. “My team is pretty much all seniors and freshmen, and it was really important we got the freshmen together in joining Catholic Athletes for Christ. We’re highly involved with it, and we love having Father Tom [Johns] on the sidelines to pray with us before games.”
Faith and talent gave SJV its first state title in the 12-year history of the program, as it consistently built its way up from that 0-7 start. During the 2021 season, Gadaleta bemoaned her team’s fate to one of her classes. Sympathetic 10th-graders Dan Herndon and Josh Hrabosky decided to join the sophomore-laden team, which won six of its last seven to finish 6-8.
Last year, the Lancers improved to 16-5, won a state game and reached the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals.
In the off-season, junior transfer Nick Huzar provided the final piece of the puzzle, and the coaches were loaded with well-founded confidence. SJV finished 23-4 and, after a loss in the SCT semifinals, won five straight state matches by 2-0 scores.
“The team hit another gear when the state tournament started,” Gadaleta said. “Josh was playing his best volleyball, Anthony [Velardo] came alive in the new system we were working on that utilized his best skills.”
The lineup, which featured all seniors other than Huzar, had Jack Farah (211 kills, 131 digs, 27 aces) and Matt Brana (137 kills, 120 digs) on the outside.
“Jack Farah has been amazing since I saw him play as an eighth-grader,” Gadaleta said. “He’s incredibly gifted athletically; he reads the game very well and he’s a strong presence at the net.”
Hrabosky had 588 assists and 26 aces as setter and is second all-time in SJV assists. Martin (104 kills, 46 blocks) and Herndon (83 kills, 22 blocks) were middies, Velardo (135 digs) played libero and Huzar (111 kills, 51 digs, 30 blocks) was opposites. Freshman Troy Sheerin came up from JV as a service specialist for states and had 17 aces.
It all came together in the state final with a dominating 25-12, 25-13 victory.
“It was the easiest game I ever coached because the boys took complete ownership of the team,” Gadaleta said. “All I had to do was fill out the starting lineup and sit back and enjoy the match.
“We always wanted to move this team toward autonomy. We wanted them to have that deep understanding of the game where we just kind of guide from the side while they could take control of the match. It was great that it came to fruition in our biggest match.”