NORTH JERSEY, SECTION II
Past five winners:
2018: Bayonne 2, Ridge 0 | 25-15, 25-21
2017: Ridge 2, Harrison 1 | 22-25, 25-22, 25-21
2016: Harrison 2, St. Peter’s Prep 0 | 25-23, 25-21
2015: Harrison 2, Livingston 1 | 22-25, 25-22, 25-16
2014: St. Peter’s Prep 2, Livingston 0 | 25-13, 25-16
Ridge has appeared in the North II final for the last two years and is in a strong position to do it again this year. The Red Devils are not clear-cut favorites, though, but they have the experience to make the strongest case to get there.
Ridge has gone 6-2 in its last eight games and will take to the court against McNair in its first game since losing to Hillsborough in the Skyland Conference Tournament on Thursday. Overall, the team is 4-0 against North II teams this season but none of the teams received higher than a six seed.
Austin Zhao and Simon Moeller have been a dominant one-two punch with over 280 combined kills. Max Metzner and Shane Holcomb provide solid depth with over 80 kills apiece. Michael Henderson gets the ball around easily with 486 assists.
St. Peter’s Prep was nearly labeled as a favorite with how it has played down the stretch but a few losses to Bridgewater-Raritan, J.P. Stevens and Kearny drop it to a high contender status. The team went 6-1 against teams in this bracket this season losing only to Kearny, who is on the opposite side of the bracket. Chris Larkin and Mason Matos can take this team a long way as the group hopes to get back to the final for the first time since 2016.
Kearny is a team that has shown it can hang with anybody on its schedule. Aside from a tough loss to Belleville, the Cardinals have been competitive in every other game against some of the top teams in this bracket. It has wins against St. Peter’s Prep and Bayonne in May and is 6-2 in its last eight entering a matchup with Summit. The trio of Brandon DaSilva, Bryan Ferreira and Santiago Lopez all have over 100 kills on the season and give Levi Linhares plenty of options to get the ball.
Harrison was on a roll entering the weekend but fell in an incredibly tight Hudson County Final match against St. Peter’s Prep. This battle-tested team has filled its schedule with the toughest teams in the state and this is when it hopes to pay dividends. Of its 10 losses, eight have come against teams in the top 10. Kevin Molina and Raymond Ugaz carry part of the load offensively and can be a tough duo to contain, especially when Marcello Soares and Freddie Marchitto get opened up.
Bayonne is back in hopes to repeat as the North II champions after topping Ridge last spring. The Bees have had a tough time against some of the top teams in the state and this bracket, as it’s 0-4 against Harrison and St. Peter’s Prep and split meetings with Kearny. Still, you should never overlook the reigning champs with James Bajor leading the offense and a front line that has a combined 82 blocks.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood is fresh off a Union County Tournament crown and riding high on a six-game winning streak. The Raiders have shown it can contend with Ridge, which it lost to 18-25, 25-17, 18-25 in mid-April. Colin Donahue and Ryan Metzger lead the way but this team needs players like Peter Sailsman, Anthony Ngumah and Braedon Cooke to step up as well if it wants to make some noise.
Newark East Side went 18-4 and rolled through the SEC’s Liberty Division with a 12-0 record. That means it went 6-4 against teams out of its division with losses to Millburn, Dover, Payne Tech and Bloomfield, three of which are teams in the playoffs. If Emerson Altamirano, Shawn De Rosa, Giovani Dos Reis, Marques Salley and Bryan Tavares can get in a groove this team can make a run.
Summit might have finished the season 14-14 but it has been able to put up a good fight against teams in this bracket. It defeated Harrison and Scotch Plains-Fanwood and has gone three sets against Harrison, Ridge, Elizabeth and Jefferson. David Axtel is a dominant hitter and can take over any match if left unguarded.
Players worth the price of admission:
David Axtel, Summit
Axtel leads this entire section with 296 kills on the season, an average of 12.3 per match. He’s also a force at the net with 49 blocks.
James Bajor, Bayonne
Bajor has 223 kills to his name this season to go with 27 aces, 22 blocks and 95 digs. He is one of five players in this section averaging double-digit kills per match with 10.6.
Kevin Molina, Harrison
Molina is another player with over 200 kills in 2019 but gets involved in virtually every aspect of Harrison’s game. He also has 29 aces, 51 blocks and 95 digs on his stat line.
Mason Matos, St. Peter’s Prep
Matos won’t be found at the top of any statistical category in this section but his name is spread out across all of them. He is the only player with at least 100 kills and 200 assists and if that’s not enough, the senior also has 35 aces and 35 blocks.
James Walsh, Scotch Plains-Fanwood
The senior has exploded onto the scene this season with 479 assists. He has yet to record fewer than 10 in a game this season and has at least 20 in seven of his last 10.
Michael Henderson, Ridge
Henderson has emerged as a star this season for Ridge and is getting close to 500 assists on the season. It’s a tough task to spread the ball around to four hitters that have at least 80 kills but Henderson gets it done.
Mario Gunn, East Orange
Gunn has put together a strong season for East Orange and has one of the top kills-per-match averages in this section. Through much of the season, the senior has averaged 10.7 kills.
2019 State Tournament brackets
2019 County/conference Tournament brackets
Brian Bobal may be reached at email@example.com. Follow Brian on Twitter @BrianBobalHS. Like NJ.com High School Sports on Facebook.