The taste of glory always remains sweet, even if it happens every season. For the fifth consecutive time, top-seeded Fair Lawn rejoiced as champions of the North 1 section of the NJSIAA JAG-ONE Physical Therapy Boys Volleyball state tournament over second-seeded Livingston 25-16, 18-25, 25-18 on Friday in Fair Lawn.
In the final set, the match was all tied at 12. The crowd’s energy was building as both teams looked focused, knowing they were just minutes from a trophy.
These teams were in this situation already just two sets earlier. The Cutters, ranked No. 5 in the NJ.com Top 20, went on a 13-4 run in the opening set following the contest’s first 12-12 tie. Fair Lawn looked to channel that ferocity one more time.
“We got into the huddle and Coach [Peter Zisa] told us to not shut down. We were excited after the win in the first set but got in our heads a bit. In the third, we had to have a better sense of urgency,” Fair Lawn senior Cobey Sedaka said.
Sedaka was vital in the closing moments, rattling off a couple of kills late in the set to help secure the win as part of Fair Lawn’s 13-5 closing run.
“Honestly, I was terrified. I just wanted to continue my senior season, though. I’m in love with this sport and I’m in love with this team and I was just thinking that I needed to do everything possible to keep the season alive,” Sedaka said.
He finished with eight kills, nine digs, one block and one assist.
To open the match, there appeared to be some championship jitters. Fair Lawn (26-10) and No. 6 Livingston combined for seven serving errors in the match’s first 14 possessions. However, as all elite teams eventually adjust, both squads fell into their game plan and competed with fewer mistakes.
“Livingston has a very formidable offense. I don’t think we could have played the offensive game against them, so serving and defense were going to be key for us versus these high-flying attackers. I think the biggest thing was that we really honed in on that third set to get them out of system, which enabled us to get some big blocks,” Zisa said.
“But Livingston is a top-tier team. Once I found out that they were in our section this year, I knew they would be a big-time opponent of ours for the next few years.”
The Lancers (26-6) found their groove in the middle frame. Senior Chris Lynum erupted for six kills in the set, including three across a seven-point stretch.
He finished the championship match with 10 kills, totaling 255 for the season and 506 for his career.
“Chris is special. Sometimes even when an error happens, you look back at his overall consistency and realize how big of a factor he really is,” Livingston head coach Dan Kim said.
“When it comes to the eye test, Chris is one of the most dynamic outside hitters we’ve ever had. He deserves to be recognized within the best group in the state.”
Lynum was joined by Olisa Ojukwu and Neil Ahlawat in the second set firing off Livingston points, finishing with six and four kills, respectively. Kellan Sun and Eric King added three each for the Lancers (26-6) while Owen Abeles racked up 19 assists.
Fair Lawn’s superstar hitter Itay Akad powered his way to seven kills (298 this season), including the final point to give his team the title.
“At Fair Lawn, we come in expecting this. If we don’t win North 1, we don’t consider it a successful season. We will celebrate the win, but this is what we expect each year,” Akad said.
“The seniors really take it to heart. They don’t want to lose our relevance in North 1; these guys have done their job thus far,” Zisa added.
Akad gave tremendous credit to the non-seniors as well. The more experienced players planted the team’s philosophy and goals into the program, but he felt that his whole team carried an important role in the victory.
“The underclassmen were huge down the stretch. I think it really hit them that if we lose this match, then the seniors are done. They really picked up, especially Vincent Lopez. He usually doesn’t talk, but today he was yelling like crazy. That brought a lot out of us all,” Akad said.
Lopez went for four kills in the win. Matt Duran surged to six kills and five blocks while Ian Vann had a pair of kills and Ethan Steen totaled five digs.
Plenty of success also began with Fair Lawn’s setter Massimo Caravaglia. The senior eclipsed the 700-mark in assists this year with 20 against Livingston. He added eight digs as well.
“I’m always looking at the matchups. I try to keep it simple at the end and look for my big hitters and let them put in their work,” Caravaglia said.
He also shared the same sentiment as his teammates regarding the magnitude of this win.
“It means everything because we work so hard for this. I remember I started to play in sixth grade and Coach Zisa has been a part of my life for so long, I would’ve done anything to win this sectional title,” Caravaglia said.
This postseason, Fair Lawn took down North Bergen, Vernon and Jefferson in the playoffs to reach this point.
Livingston entered the match with a winning streak of seven, defeating Bergen Tech, Don Bosco Prep and Teaneck in the playoffs.
“We had a good season overall. Every year we set team goals and we accomplished two of the three (county and conference titles). We lost in the state finals and losing to Fair Lawn is a tough draw, but we’ll be back,” Kim said.
Fair Lawn advances to the state semifinals on June 7 at South Brunswick High School, but the Cutters will first celebrate the win for a bit.
“This is something I’m going to remember forever. Winning last year was big and being part of a legacy and program like this one is something I’ll never forget,” Sedaka finished.
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PJ Potter may be reached at PPotter@njadvancemedia.com,