LIVINGSTON, NJ - The Livingston Lancers have built their giant kill reputation on days like these. The Bloomfield Invitational gave Livingston (LHS) a strong split against powerhouse Southern Regional, whereas their home quad match brought them wins against 17th ranked Eastern and 2nd ranked Old Bridge. Livingston hoped to continue this streak in the 10th Annual Lancer Invitational, a 16-team round-robin tournament. The tournament, in which the two game matches start at 4-4 and are played up until 21, started in Pool B against Dickinson.
A poised Lancer squad started the game on an 8-3 run, highlighted by kills from middles Meuvz Vincent and Kyle Rulka. Dickinson pulled close, trying to make a comeback but the Lancers refused to let their opponents get too close, spotting themselves at least a four-point lead throughout the first game. Livingston made quick work of Dickinson, winning the first game 25-14.
A determined Dickinson squad started the second game with two points, but Billy Williams put away two kills to bring the serve and then the lead back to the Lancers. Livingston's opponents continuously set the outside hitter, who pounded away on the LHS front row to bring the score to 11-10 in favor of the Lancers. Two hitting errors from Livingston gave Dickinson a 12-11 lead, their first lead of the match. The two squads traded points through the midway point of the game, with neither team stepping up to take the lead. Unforced errors forced Livingston Coach Partelow to call a timeout. The Lancers opened out of the timeout with a Williams kill to tie the score at 17. Each team continued to trade points and with the cap at 27 points approaching, the two teams were still tied. Dickenson took a marathon point, with the momentum swinging in their favor. Jake Delman put away a kill to regain serve for Livingston and a carry brought LHS to game point where Delman's serve finished the match with a 25-23 win for the Lancers.
The Lancers continued their pool play against Pope John, which split its first match with Bergen Catholic. An unremarkable start for each team brought a 12-10 lead to the Lancers. Neither side could break the others' wall at the front line. As a result, the teams continued to trade points through blocks. Vincent fueled a five-point run until libero Ed Jung's serve could not get over the net. LHS broke serve and ran off consecutive points to force a Pope John timeout with a 21-16 lead for the Lancers. JP Tirone found the weakness in Pope John's serve receive to finish the game with three straight aces.
Each team started off slow yet again in the second game as Pope John took their first lead of the match at 7-6. Steven Birnbaum, filling the void for Justin Delman who has battled flu-like symptoms for two weeks, helped the Lancers keep pace with their opponent. Coach Partelow was not happy with a 13-13 start and took a timeout as Livingston's errors continued. The timeout did not change much as the teams continued to trade points. Through kills by Vincent and Tirone, the Lancers built a 22-16 lead. Pope John battled back to within three and then traded points to gain serve back down 23-20. On the crucial point, the Lancers received a gift in the form of a carry on a free ball to get serve back to win the second game 25-20 after another Tirone kill.
The last match for Livingston was crucial for seeding as the Lancers needed a dominant win to clinch the first seed in their pool as well as a high seed in the second round. LHS would have to defeat the Bergen Catholic Crusaders, who were only three points behind Livingston in the tiebreaker for the first seed in Pool B. The Lancers would have to combat rustiness, coming off a two-match break.
Behind Ed Jung's serving and a powerful middle attack combination of Vincent and freshman Kyle Rulka, the Lancers opened a 7-5 lead. The two teams settled in for a duel as the teams fought back and forth, alternating points. With the score at 14-14, neither team was able to gain a sizable advantage. As soon as Jake Delman's serves helped the Lancers build a three-point lead, the Crusaders immediately gained it back. With a 17-17 score still hanging in the balance, Coach Partelow called a timeout. Bergen Catholic (BC) took a 20-19 lead, looking to close out the game. Kyle Rulka had other ideas, punishing a Justin Delman set to tie the game. Another LHS point forced a BC timeout as the pendulum of momentum swung to Livingston.
The key to breaking out in the first game, simply put, "was getting a good pass, a good set, and finishing with a good kill," said Livingston's Meuvz Vincent. The injury timeout gave a rest to a tired Crusaders squad, who won back the serve. Williams smashed a set off of the double block to tie the game and JP Tirone came through in the clutch with a cross-court kill to take the lead for Livingston at 23-22. Defensive specialist Sean Kim redeemed himself for his first service error to gain a game point. Williams was called for a carry on a crucial point, but Jake Delman hit over the double block to win the first game 25-23.
The Lancers took six of the first nine points to take a sizable advantage in the second game. Two more points for LHS was all the Crusaders' coach needed to see as BC took a timeout down 12-7. The Lancer team built a 17-10 lead behind the serving of Tirone and Jung and a Vincent kill forced a second timeout with Bergen Catholic down 18-10. LHS refused to let up, running up a 22-12 score before the Crusaders grabbed a side out. The Lancers quickly put the match away with a 25-13 victory. Livingston won the pool and advanced to the next round on a high note.
LHS received the second seed in the gold bracket for their efforts. They faced the seventh-seeded Bayonne Bees, for a semi-final berth against the winner of Wayne Valley and Garfield. On the other side of the bracket, Old Bridge faced Bloomfield while Bergen Catholic faced Belleville.
In the gold bracket, the format was a single game to 25 points with no cap. The Lancers split the first eight points with the Bees, with each team trying to feel the other out. Fueled by a Tirone block and a Williams kill, the Lancers took a 10-5 lead. Continuing the trend, Steven Birnbaum entered for an under-the-weather Justin Delman and set JP Tirone for a cross-court kill to force a Bayonne timeout. At the middle hitter position, Vincent took over and annihilated three straight points to push the Livingston lead to 16-7. A timeout for Bayonne did the trick as the Bees forced a side out and won the next point, as well. A poised, focused Lancer team refused to let their opponents see consecutive points, a key to their dominant performance in the quarterfinal matchup. The Bees managed to steal a side out down by eight, but a hitting error gave the Lancers serve back two points away from taking the game. The Lancers rolled 25-14 in a furious attack.
The Lancers next faced a familiar opponent, 6th seeded Garfield, who defeated a powerful Wayne Valley squad. The teams started out in a solid fashion, as Felipe Fraga once again exerted his presence for the Boilermakers. Vincent continued his attack on his opponent, tying the score at seven. The Lancers battled back from a deficit, but Fraga refused to let Livingston tie the score.
A 13-9 deficit was enough to make Coach Partelow call timeout to cut the momentum. The timeout renewed the energy of the Lancers, which they used to battle back to within two.
With the score 17-15 in favor of Garfield, the Lancers had a prime chance to take control of the game. Yet, Garfield would not go away as the teams continued to trade points. Down 19-15, the Lancers took their second timeout.
Trailing by five, Livingston got a huge boost from a serving error. The Lancers quickly grabbed the next two points, but gave serve right back. Down 22-19, Sean Kim came in to serve, but Fraga slammed a kill off a double block.
LHS would not go down without a fight, as Tirone captured another kill. Garfield took the next point to push the score to 24-21, but LHS captured the next two points in the most nerve-racking game of the tournament. A timeout by Garfield did not help much, as the Lancers took the next three points to tie the game.
Garfield won the all-important 25th point to gain another game point, but Livingston would not be denied. A passing error gave LHS the chance to improbably win the game with a 26-25 lead. With Ed Jung serving the next point, the Lancers miraculously finished their comeback. LHS would face #1 Old Bridge, who defeated Belleville in their semi-final match 25-12.
Neither team had to be pumped up for the finals in which Old Bridge would have a chance to dethrone the home team in a rematch of a Livingston win just two weeks prior. LHS ran up the first four of five points fairly easily, but the Knights won the next two to cut the lead to one. Livingston would have none of an Old Bridge comeback, ripping off the next three points.
Old Bridge, behind junior middle Tom Cruz, closed the gap. A resilient Lancer squad continued to pound away and forced the outside hitters of Old Bridge to send their attacks long. Timeout was called by Old Bridge, with the score 12-8 in favor of LHS.
A stoppage in play gave the Old Bridge squad time to collect themselves and erase the lead. The teams settled in and traded points, as Justin Delman came back in for Steven Birnbaum at setter. The Knights came away with the next two points behind kills from Cruz. This forced a Livingston timeout.
LHS was in dire need of a sideout, down 20-17. Vincent put away an overpass to cut the lead to two and another to make it a one-point lead, but Old Bridge pulled away with two more points.
With another Vincent kill, it was time again for another LHS comeback, down 22-20. The senior middle was not done yet, slamming another ball right down the middle to tie the score.
The Knights were one point away from victory after Jake Delman made an error on serve receive. Vincent put away another kill for Livingston, but Old Bridge finished the next two points and claimed the victory. Livingston was defeated in the finals 25-23.