If work is the modern day religion, consider Andrew Hopman an apostate.
That’s a bit dramatic, of course. The Old Bridge High School boys’ volleyball coach still believes in working his team really hard.
Only now he understands how to pace his teenage players so they peak at the right time — in the postseason.
Last spring, after years of falling short in playoff tournaments, the 13th-year boss lightened up his team’s practice and tournament schedule.
“When I looked back over the history of our team, it felt like we were petering out in May,” Hopman said.
In 2018 with the lightened workload and schedule, Old Bridge didn’t peter out in May.
Instead, the Knights sprinted to the finish line and placed first in the state of New Jersey in boys’ volleyball.
Old Bridge won the NJSIAA State Championship with a 2-1 victory over Southern Regional High School in the state final.
It was the first state championship in program history.
One year later, four key players are back from that team. Not surprisingly, Old Bridge is again a state title contender, with a 20-1 record and 19 victories by 2-0 sweep.
Despite that sterling resume, the Knights, just like in 2018, have not peaked yet.
Hopman is hoping that they again play their best volleyball in May and early June. He has kept the same light-ish practice and tournament schedule to prepare his players for that grind.
The veteran coach can’t possibly know yet if his plan will work. But he at least knows that he has the nucleus of players who understand how to pull it off.
“They play year round too,” Hopman said. “So their volleyball IQ is extremely high.”
It’s a loaded lineup. But senior outside hitters Andrew Zaleck and Logan Albrecht stand out among the standouts. Zaleck leads the Knights with 217 kills and Albrecht is second with 116.
Senior setter Justin Tuohy does not get the glory of spikes and kills, like his classmates. But he is probably the best setter/volleyball point guard in New Jersey, with a whopping 421 assists in 2019.
Senior libero Josh DeWitt really doesn’t get the glory of spikes and kills, like Zaleck and Albrecht. But DeWitt, like Tuohy at his position, may be the best libero in the Garden State. He has a similarly whopping 270 digs this spring.
“Josh anchors the defense,” Hopman said. “His ability to read other teams attacks and always be in the right place is amazing.”
Those guys are Hopman’s core players. But he also has a talented supporting cast around them.
Sophomore Zach Cuisinier and senior Robert Pawlowski are middle hitters who finish points and prevent the other team from doing so. The duo has combined for 92 kills and 52 blocks this year.
Junior outside hitters Jonathan Guzman and Jonathan Ortega have 49 and 34 blocks, respectively. Senior opposite setter Filip Cizek has 56 digs.
Last year in the state championship match against Southern Regional, Cizek came in cold off the bench and helped Old Bridge turn the match around with his defense and passing.
“One of his teammates had trouble coming back from a few errors,” Hopman said. “But Filip came in with very little varsity experience and did a great job.”
The Knights are as deep as they are talented.
“People watching that were like, ‘Who is No. 10 (Cizek’s jersey number) and where did he come from?'” Hopman said.