Connecticut boys volleyball team captures Junior National crown in Vegas

If Kevin Marino needed any reminder of how close his club volleyball players are, he didn’t have to look any further than his cell phone this spring.

“The group chat was always blowing up,” Marino said.

The messages are unlikely to stop any time soon.

More than 2,500 miles from home, the 10 players on the Northeast Volleyball 17-Open club team captured the 17 USA crown at the 2022 USA Volleyball Boys Junior National Championships, held July 4-7 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

The Connecticut team, coached by Marino, went 10-2 overall and 21-4 in sets to win the title, knocking off top-seeded Richmond Volleyball Club 29-27, 25-19 in the semis and second-seeded Illinois 25-16, 25-23 in the final.

It’s just the second time a Connecticut team has won a national title at the event, Marino said, with the Mizuno East Volleyball Club winning the 18 club division in 2017.

“You see teams from all over with different styles and we’re just the little team of 10 that caught lightning in a bottle and showed our talent to the fullest,” said Marino, who coached the Joel Barlow boys to a second straight perfect season and state championship in the spring. “Things started to go well for us on day three and then day four we were hot and we stayed hot and won.”

The Northeast roster included Darien’s Trevor Herget, an outside hitter who earned tournament MVP honors. Herget, Joel Barlow’s Ryan Schmid and Ridgefield’s Rocco Bonadies were all named to the All-Tournament team.

The roster included Ludlowe’s Kristaps Priede, a setter, Staples’ Ashdon Godoy, Trumbull’s Matt Cherfane, Masuk’s Nate McCauley, Simsbury’s Anderson Piller, and Ridgefield’s Matthew Konopka and James Ross.

The roster was the same from the last club season, which ran from October through March, but with the CIAC season wrapping up on June 9, the Northeast team had just three and a half weeks to get acclimated with each other again before the Vegas tournament.

The players didn’t miss a beat.

“These guys picked up as a team and a group right from the first practice,” Marino said. “You could tell how excited they were to see each other. It’s exciting to have a group of players who look forward to playing together so much. They kept in touch all through the high school season.”

Marino said they had nine practices in the weeks leading up to the tournament, although they didn’t have a complete roster for all of those. Once in Vegas, they had an hour-long practice the night before the tournament began and things started to come together.

Matches were best-of-three and Northeast was 2-1 on day one before sweeping the second day of pool play. On day three, they lost in three sets to a Colorado team, but rebounded to win the next two.

That included a 2-0 sweep of the Mavs from Kansas City, as they rallied from a 24-22 deficit in the second set and won 25-11, 26-24. Marino said at that point he saw everything coming together.

They beat Las Vegas 25-16, 26-24 in their first match on the final day and then knocked off Richmond and Illinois in the next two rounds for the title.

Herget racked up 23 kills in the semis and did not make an error in the final

“Trevor is a really fun athlete to coach because he’s not just physically gifted, he uses his brain a lot,” Marino said. “When you ask him to do something, he’s willing to do it right away and understands it very fast. We just let him go and let Trevor be Trevor. It’s great to watch him play and have him be on your side.”

Having Schmid as a part of the team was also special for Marino, who also coaches the rising junior in high school. Schmid has been part of two state championship teams and a 46-match win streak at Barlow.

“Ryan started last volleyball season and he was a big option for us,” Marino said. “He was a piece that teams couldn’t really stop just because of the left-hand attack and how versatile he is and the different shots he’s able to take. Obviously the run we’ve been on together has been great and it’s from him accepting that he wanted to play the sport and just going to work.”

With everything clicking as the tournament progressed, winning a championship followed.

“I knew we had a chance to win,” Marino said. “I didn’t go out there expecting us to win, but I knew we’d have a good shot if they came together and they did it.”; @dstewartsports