On April 2 in its season opener, Howell High School beat Christian Brothers Academy, a Shore Conference boys’ volleyball rival, for the first time in five years.
The 2-1 home triumph was the start of something.
A little more than three weeks later, Howell is 9-0. It has beaten seven opponents by a 2-0 sweep, including CBA, this time in Lincroft, on April 25.
Howell coach Anthony Peri is in his third season leading the program. His Rebels were solid in his first two campaigns, finishing 12-7 in 2018 and 9-8 in 2017. But they weren’t great, and they didn’t win anything.
This year though, the Rebels appear to be great, and they will be a contender for the Shore Conference Tournament title and perhaps even the NJSIAA Central Jersey Tournament championship.
“We had good seasons in the past but we didn’t have all the pieces,” Perri said. “Now we have all the pieces.”
“I just feel like we really understand this could be our year,” said senior outside hitter Alek Roschko. “Everyone knows their role and what they are supposed to do.”
“It’s chemistry,” added senior setter Justin Smith.
Seniors Roschko and Beau Braun are the outside hitters, and they have combined for 105 kills so far.
Roschko, who has 67 of those kills, gets the most set passes of any hitter on the team. The 6-0 senior is a third year varsity starter who has been playing this role since Peri took over the program.
Braun, on the other hand, only earned the starting spot before this season. His emergence has been a surprise. It has also rounded out Howell’s lineup.
“He was one of the biggest pieces we had to find,” Perri said.
Howell’s middle hitters, seniors Nick Hornung and Jack DiGirolamo, have combined for almost as many kills, 97, as its outside hitters. Both have also recorded double digit blocks and digs.
The 6-4 Hornung and the 6-3 DiGirolamo dominate one on one matchups at the net, on offense and defense.
“They block everybody on defense,” Perri said. “If I had to bet on outside hitters scoring with one blocker against them, I’ll take them any day.”
On a team with so many talented hitters, the setter may be the most important guy. He is like the point guard on an old school basketball team: he has to keep all the scorers happy.
Senior Smith does a great job of that for the Rebels. He has 193 assists in 2019, and the opposition never knows where he’s about to go with the ball.
“He doesn’t do one particular thing with his hand or body. He can just set from difficult angles, which makes the defense respect it,” Perri said. “They can’t cheat. They have to stay home.”
Roschko, Braun, Hornung, DiGirolamo and Smith rack up the statistics. But opposite setter John Durann, the junior, and libero Tyler Zaccaria, another senior, are the glue guys for Howell.
Durann does a little bit of everything. Zaccaria keeps points alive, with 55 digs this spring.
“Tyler got that role because of his consistency,” Perri said. “You want the ball to be passed to the right spot as much as possible.”
With this lineup, and its fast start to the season, Perri is confident moving forward.
“We’ll get a good ranking in the Shore, so there’s a good chance we can get some wins,” he said. “States will be tough. But if we keep winning, they’ll give us a good seed.”
“If we’re playing our game I don’t think anyone can beat us,” Roschko added. “I think we can go all the way if I’m being honest.”