PATERSON, NJ - The rich history of athletics for Paterson’s historic Eastside High School got a little bit richer Tuesday.
Led by a solid crew of seniors, the boys’ varsity volleyball squad captured their first ever NJISAA state tournament win. However, despite entering the game as the sixth ranked team in North Jersey Section 1, the two winning matches did not come easy as both went down to the wire against a solid squad from West Essex.
The visiting Knights boasted a visible height advantage but leaping ability and all-around hustle proved to be the winning keys for the host Ghosts. Both victories on the two out three format came by the narrowest of possible margins-two points.
“I’m very proud of our guys,” Eastside Head Coach Robert Black said after the contest. “They stayed together and played as a team even though the score was close throughout both games. Those were two very close sets. West Essex played very well.”
The Ghosts were led by a trio of seniors, outside hitters George Gonzalez and Ny’vir Perkins, and opposite hitter Dewar Lausell.
Gonzalez lived up to his season credentials as the state leader in kills by combining tremendous leaping with an uncanny ability to hit the ball at exactly the right time. Perkins also turned in a number of clutch kills as Lausell exhibited a consistent combination of offensive and defensive prowess.
An initial 5-2 Eastside lead was highlighted with a setup by Gonzalez to Lausell who found a crease in the West Essex defense to drop in a perfect shot which found empty space. However, two net interference calls against the Ghosts helped the Knights even the score.
As play continued, Eastside sophomore Alberto Torrez placed a perfect vertical assist which Torrez pounded for a tomahawk slam. After Eastside lost a duel at the net, Perkins raced forward from midcourt for a successful scoring slap down which hugged the right sideline.
Though Perkins and company continued to set Gonzalez up for slams, the pesky Knights refused to fold.
The squads traded turnovers as West Essex stepped on the middle line and an Eastside serve sailed past the Knights’ end line. In a fierce exchange, Gonzalez out-battled two taller opponents at the net. Poised by the net, Lausell showcased volleyball’s version of a slam dunk when, set up by Torrez, the confident senior’s crush of the leather left no opportunity for return.
To the credit of West Essex, a number of Eastside kills were returned, several by spectacular digs.
However, aided by the steady play of junior Eastside Libero Carlos Ortiz, the Ghosts were able to consistently apply pressure. As the first match neared conclusion, Perkins contributed a spectacular, left-handed put-back for a score. After Gonzalez aced a serve, a furious back-and-forth volley was marked by perhaps the play of the game-a sensational save by a West Essex player who rescued the ball from hitting the floor with a kick.
With the score knotted at 23-23, Eastside’s voracious student body raised the volume. A West Essex miscue was fittingly followed by a Torrez to Gonazalez slam to ice the victory, 25-23.
The second set saw the Knights draw first blood and race to a 4-1 lead. However, sparked by the precision jump-serving of junior Daizon Pauldo, the Ghosts were able to claw back to knot the score at five apiece. Torrez again provided the perfect opportunity as Gonzalez took full advantage with a windmill slam. A remarkable save by West Essex of a ball that caromed out of bounds garnered fruit.
After the set reached the midway point, the Ghosts were hampered by at least three failed serve attempts. However, the front line of Lausell, senior Kevin Rivera, and Perkins proved to be almost impenetrable as shot after shot by West Essex was rebuffed.
A perfect tap over the net by Lausell dropped harmlessly to the Knight’s floor for a Ghost point. It was then that the Ghosts’ Edwin Elony took his turn setting up Gonzalez for yet another successful kill. The alert junior did the same late in the set to produce another clutch score.
Despite being down 24-23, and with the game on the line, the never- say-die effort of West Essex was never clearer. The first two Knights’ hit opportunities were successful despite both touching the ceiling and descending at awkward angles. However, the third attempt was obstructed by the net and signaled victory for the Ghosts. The second 25-23 set win, and the match victory was finally intact.
“I played aggressively, as hard as I could,” Gonzalez said after the game. “This is great!”
“We worked hard all summer for this moment,” Perkins added. “All those days practicing at the YMCA paid off.”
Lausell said that this was his third year playing volleyball at the high school level.
“This is amazing,” the senior stated. “It feels awesome to win.”
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