Top-ranked and undefeated Bellmore-JFK powered its way to a fourth Nassau Class B boys’ volleyball title in five years on Monday afternoon, but No. 3 West Hempstead provided a stiff challenge.
The Cougars, behind the hitting of tournament MVP Gary Anderson and Matt Murphy, outlasted the Rams in four thrilling sets in a packed gym at Roslyn High School, 25-19, 23-25, 25-22, 25-20. West Hempstead, which had upset Roslyn a day before in the semifinals, was led by seniors Tom Wood, Chris McAvoy, Liam Donovan and Eric Finkelstein.
“It was quite a match,” Kennedy coach Dennis Ringel said. “Versatility is our biggest strength. We don’t set to anyone in particular, and that makes us hard to defend.
“West Hempstead executed so well at the net,” he added. “I haven’t seen a team block like that in years. They deserve a lot of credit.”
McAvoy, Donovan and junior Darren Davy made the Cougars (21-0) work hard for every point, and helped the Rams become just the second team since the middle of October to win a set against them.
“I don’t think we could’ve played any better,” West Hempstead coach Andrew Wilson said. “The kids did a tremendous job. Kennedy comes at you from everywhere on the court. Our defense kept us in it, but they showed why they’ve been the best team all year.”
With the opening set in the bag, the Cougars, who swept the Rams (14-4) twice during the Conference III regular season, raced to an 18-11 lead in the second set and seemed poised for another sweep. But West Hempstead caught fire with senior Terry Oh serving, and not only made things interesting but stole the set.
Oh’s service produced 11 points, including two aces, and was keyed by the net play of McAvoy and Donovan. Suddenly it was 22-18 after a kill by sophomore Bryce Cohen. “Momentum changed quick,” Ringel said. “We just had that one rotation where we couldn’t make anything happen.” A kill by Davy closed out the set and evened the match.
“I think it bodes well to be tested,” Ringel said. “After that second set we were going to find out if we were a team that panics or a team that holds it together under pressure.”
It was the latter. The third set saw Kennedy rally from an early 13-8 deficit to pull out another tight battle. Seniors Ron Gutman and Matt Migdal took care of the middle while Anderson, senior Steven Gassert and junior Justin Fiegeles had three kills apiece to spark a comeback that was complete when a Rams block attempt landed out of bounds.
The fourth set featured 10 deadlocks, the last of which, at 18, was broken by an Anderson kill following a clutch dig by Adam Lowell. Anderson, a junior southpaw who had 18 kills and 27 assists, provided two more crucial points with cross-court kills, and soon the celebration was on.
“A lot of times we go with matchups,” Ringel said. “Gary had a nice matchup today, and we rode him.”