‘A Cinderella season’

West Milford. The Highlanders tallied an impressive overall record of 23-2 with a mark of 7-1 in the Big North Conference Independence Division.

| 01 Jul 2021 | 09:57

When Alyssa Forget, the head coach of the West Milford High School boy’s volleyball team states that “this past season was unlike any other season in the history of the boys volleyball program,” she is 100 percent correct - and for all of the right reasons.

The Highlanders tallied an impressive overall record of 23-2 with a mark of 7-1 in the Big North Conference Independence Division. They advanced to the NJSIAA North 1 Sectional final before losing to Fair Lawn. West Milford and Fair Lawn went 1-1 versus each other in the regular season. Fair Lawn also finished atop the Independence Division with a 7-1 record.

The Highlanders defeated Bergen Tech, Pope John and Jefferson in the Sectionals.

“The team was led by a trio of captains, Ryan Thenell, Matt Christ and Justin Spagnuolo who always made sure the rest of the team knew our goals and stayed focused on them both on and off the court all season long,’’ Forget said. “But our success was the result of the dedication of each of our seven starting players. Each member had a particular role to play and they knew their jobs and knew that they had to execute at the highest level if we wanted to be successful.

“Ryan and Matt were our big outside hitters, who could put the ball down from anywhere on the court. Together they combined for 480 kills on the season. As the season went on, everyone knew that the ball was going to them, so Justin really stepped up as our third option. Although his numbers are not as high as the two other players, his kills often came at crucial points in the match and drew the defense away from our outside hitters so they would be more likely to be successful in their next attempt.

“Anyone who knows volleyball knows that in order for your big hitters to be able to put the ball down you need to have a solid pass and a perfect set,’’ Forget said. “Those two aspects of our game came from our libero, Sean McNally, and our setter, Tom Dinizik. Sean could always be counted on to pass even the toughest of serves to target, while Tom was able to set all of his options no matter where he was on the court, which earned him over 500 assists in his first year as a varsity setter.’’

There were of course many memories built this spring for the Highlanders.

“There were a lot of games throughout the season that were memorable,’’ Forget said. “The first one was when we played high ranked St. Peter’s Prep early in the season. They were our first real tough competition and we came into the gym confident and pulled out our first big upset win. The second was the County final game against Wayne Hills. Although we had won against them twice before in regular season play, the County championship had a different feel to it. There was a big crowd in the gym for the first time all season and you could tell that the boys were nervous. But they battled throughout the entire game and fought tooth and nail in a tight game to come out on top.

“The most recent memorable game was versus Jefferson. We had scrimmaged them in preseason and lost and had not played them since, so we knew they were going to be tough competition. They had some strong servers and a much bigger block than what we were used to, but we handled their serve and Ryan, Justin and Matt found a way to spread out their defense so we could put the ball down around their blockers which led us to a State (Sectional) semifinal victory.’’

West Milford overcame obstacles due in large part to the deadly covid-19 pandemic this past season.

“We are proud of everything that we have accomplished this year,’’ Forget said. “After missing the season because of COVID last year, we weren’t sure what to expect when we first walked into the gym for the first day of the season. We knew that we had talent, but we weren’t sure how that talent would stack up against the other teams in the state. It turns out that we had all the talent, passion, and drive that we needed to succeed and we had a Cinderella season that we will all remember forever.’’