Surely you’ve heard this sports cliche: “It’s hard to beat a team three times in a season.”
It mainly applies to the National Football League, where division rivals meet twice in the regular season and occasionally again in the postseason. But the cliche is also applied generally across sports.
Well, Old Bridge High School bucked it on May 18 at South Brunswick High School.
In the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament boys’ volleyball championship match, the top-seeded Knights swept past second-seeded Saint Joseph Regional High School, 2-0.
It was not even their third victory over the Metuchen school in 2019. It was their fourth.
And while the underdog Falcons stayed close, they still didn’t take a set from the powerful Knights. Old Bridge won the first set, 27-25, and the second set, 25-21. The Knights also swept Saint Joseph Regional on April 1 in Metuchen, on April 17 at home and on May 11 back in Metuchen.
Old Bridge has taken all eight sets from its best GMC rival this spring. Coach Andrew Hopman’s team also won the 2018 GMC title by sweeping its best adversary at the time, John P. Stevens High School, in the final.
“It’s always been close with Saint Joe’s and it’s always been a battle,” Hopman said. “But we watched film from our recent matches and made adjustments.”
Watching film helps. But there isn’t much to change when you are 36-2, as the Knights are in 2019.
That said, in his recent studies Hopman did notice one thing: senior Filip Cizek needed to serve more. Before the GMC championship, Cizek was fifth in Old Bridge’s serving rotation.
But his hard, flat line drives were flummoxing opponents. Other players were often just pushing Cizek’s serves back, instead of passing the ball around for good shots. This gave the Knights ample opportunities to crush the weak returns onto the hardwood for points.
Hopman promptly moved Cizek up to second in Old Bridge’s rotation.
It made a difference in a close championship match.
“He had a great day serving,” Hopman said. “We scored a lot of points off his serve.”
The Knights took advantage of the easy returns to pass the ball around and set up kills. Senior setter Justin Tuohy recorded 28 assists against Saint Joseph. Senior outside hitter Andrew Zaleck registered 17 kills.
“Which is a good day even for him,” Hopman said of his standout hitter, who has an incredible 396 kills in 2019.
The coach loves Cizek’s serving style because it fits the team’s general approach to the craft: send it over hard and go for points.
“We as a team are willing to accept aggressive serving mistakes,” Hopman said. “If we can get them to send us an easy ball back, we want to go for it.”
“An easy ball will set up a strong attack,” he added.
Now there really may not be anything else for Hopman to discover on film. His defending state championship winners are pretty fully formed, and great.
Old Bridge is a few victories away from repeating as the NJSIAA Central Jersey champion. The Knights are also the No. 1 seed in that tournament.
“We’re just going to stick with the motto that won us states last year, which is one game at a time,” Hopman said. “And one day at a time.”