The incredible Chad Jennings will be assisting me this week in an effort to provide extra volleyball coverage for you all. Chad covered the Clarkstown North-Suffern boys section final on Wednesday, here’s his game story:
SUFFERN — The white walls of the Suffern High School gymnasium are covered with so many championship and All-America banners that even the one honoring eventual major-league All-Star Walt Weiss gets lost in the collage.
There are tennis championships from the ’50s, football titles from the ’30s, and a baseball league championship from 1904, and somewhere in there is a Boys Volleyball banner boasting section championships every year from 2008 to 2012.
That one needs to be updated.
With a 25-23, 20-25, 25-22, 25-11 win Wednesday night against Clarkstown North, the young Suffern dynasty captured its sixth straight Section 1 title. The Mounties have won every year the section has played boys volleyball.
“Tradition here at Suffern is important,” coach Kim Cleary said. “(It’s important for) the guys who started this program, the pioneers of this. Chris Konkowski, who was the first Rockland (volleyball) player to get a college scholarship, who tragically passed away (in a 2010 car crash), he’s with us every time.
“… It’s not a long tradition, but it’s an important one.”
With the win, Suffern (pictured below) advanced to regional competition, which begins Nov. 9 at Clarkstown South.
Suffern was a significant favorite and jumped out to an early lead, but Clarkstown North put up a fight, making the first game close, winning the second game, and taking an early lead in the third.
“A section title has always been a given for us,” Suffern senior libero Will Margolin said. “But now — last year and this year — we’ve had to work for it. Our sights are on regionals this year, but still, the section was challenging to win.”
Cleary called timeout with her team trailing 11-7 in the third. She talked to her team about body language, and the Mounties responded with a strong and confident finish.
Suffern seniors Tom Sharp and Oliver Cronk had 18 and 15 kills, respectively, and sophomore Kevin Jefferson provided a quiet boost with 15 kills of his own.
Clarkstown North’s Stav Gershonovitz had 16 kills, while senior captain Alosh Alex had nine kills and 13 digs.
“We blew it a few times in the first and last game there,” Gershonovitz said. “But I’m proud of our team.”
For Suffern, the tradition continues, and now it’s on to regionals.
“For the past three or four years, that’s always been our focus,” Sharp said. “Just get out of sectionals as cleanly as possible, and then go win at regionals.”
And because Chad is just, well, awesome, here is a video recap of the match, along with a bevy of postgame quotes he got and was kind enough to write down and send me:
Suffern senior libero WILL MARGOLIN:
On focus on regionals
“It’s hard. We definitely have to take out minds off of regionals just for this game. With this team, we tend to kind of play down to their level, so we had to keep our heads level and always be playing the way that we know we can play, not playing down to their level.”
On personal struggles in the match
“It’s a little bit frustrating because it’s not like they were beating us, it was us beating ourselves. It was just stupid mistakes like not picking up the tips, missing serves, little things like that.”
On other teams catching up
“We’ve always been kind of the dominating power in the section, and it’s always been easy. A section title has always been a given for us, but now, last year and this year, we’ve had to work for it. Our sights are on regionals this year, but still, the section was challenging to win.”
Suffern senior hitter TOM SHARP:
“They’ve been battling us all year. They’ve been giving us games.”
“They’re a tough team. They battle every point, and we tend to relax a little bit. They battle us, we keep it together, and we were able to finish it. It was good.”
Other teams getting better?
“Teams definitely caught up to us. No disrespect to them, but they’ve caught up to us a little bit more and given us tougher games. But we try to go out of the section as much as possible.”
on going to Long Island and going upstate a lot this year for tournaments
“Just try to find as many teams as we can to challenge us, but it’s tough seeing the same teams every week.”
On focus on regionals
“Even going into the season, the section championship is kind of secondary to the regional championship, which has been our focus all year. We haven’t overlooked this game, but we’ve said, we need to handle our business. Our focus has always been regionals. For the past three or four years, that’s always been our focus. Just get out of sectionals as cleanly as possible, and then go win at regionals.”
Clarkstown North’s STAV GERSHONOVITZ:
“I’m definitely proud of coming this far. It was a tough one. We blew it a few times in the first and last game there, but I’m proud of our team. I’m really going to miss them. They all played their hardest, so I can’t complain.”
Clarkstown North coach KERRY SULLIVAN:
“The numbers that come out for us are tremendous. We have kids that haven’t been playing a fall sport or wanted to try it and loved it in phys ed, and they love it. It’s just, we need Westchester, and we need other schools in Rockland. It’s just a matter of getting some (other schools involved).”
On not being overwhelmed by Suffern
“I told my guys, we’re 2-12 coming into a championship game. This is now the sixth time that we’re playing them. I said, we have nothing to lose. Coming to a match like this, we just needed to exceed everyone’s expectations. I thought we fought.”
On playing well for a while
“That was a great game, and I think a lot of people would have discounted a 2-12 team in a championship game. My guys, all season long, gave every possible thing they had and just got better every single day. When you come into a sectional game, whether it be the first round or the championship, it doesn’t matter what your record was before, it’s what you produce on the court. I have kept that in their heads all season long. It’s all about the end result. We didn’t win, but I’ve got to be proud of them.”
Suffern coach KIM CLEARY:
Good to have another team fight back in the section?
“Absolutely. Basically, it keeps them motivated for the next level. It can get a little stale, unfortunately, for us, with only three teams. It boggles my mind that Section 1 has not embraced this. We’ve been around since ’08. I am flabbergasted more schools are not seeing the opportunity that boys volleyball offers. It can get frustrating playing North and South so many times. We know each other so well that sometimes there can be lapses, but I thought the guys today really kept their eye on the goal and that was to play at the next highest level. They know what state caliber competition is like. We’ve traveled all over the place this season. We’ve been to Long Island four times. We’ve been up to Albany. We have played all around the state, so we know high level of competition, and that’s our goal. That’s what we’re ready for.”
On struggling for a while, then turning it around
“After we took the first game, North came out real strong in that second game. Midway through the third game I called a timeout and we kind of talked about their body language and acting defeated. If they didn’t raise their energy levels, momentum (could build for North). To get that momentum back, I think they really took that and ran with it because they dominated from that timeout out.”
What does a sectional title mean at this point?
“One of the things I think it means is, even though we’ve only been around since ’08, the guys who have played since ’08, the tradition here at Suffern is important. The guys who started this program, the pioneers of this, Chris Konkowski who was the first Rockland player to get a college scholarship, who tragically passed away, he’s with us every time. Every time this team, Suffern, gets on the court, we’re playing for Chris Konkowski and what he started. For them, the section title is continuing that tradition. It’s not a long tradition, but it’s an important one. To have 10 seniors, they understand that. They understand that they don’t want to be the team that’s the one that let everything down. So a section title is important for that reason, and it’s one step closer to our goal.”
All photos by: Seth Harrison/The Journal News