The 2019 season didn’t start the way Washington Township boys volleyball wanted it to.
The Minutemen were a bit behind schedule when they opened the season on April 1 against Camden Academy Charter. The senior-heavy team had seen a good chunk of its lineup miss the final days of preseason due to senior trip and had to play tough programs in Clearview and Sterling the first week of the season. After opening the season with a victory over Camden Academy, the Minutemen fell to Clearview and Sterling to drop to a 1-2 record.
“When we played Clearview first, I didn’t think we were ready,” senior Brett Guetens said. “Same with Sterling, we were really just getting into it with our team. It was a warm-up couple games. I wish it didn’t happen like that, but it did.”
Since that rough first week, Washington Township has been outstanding. On Thursday, the Minutemen took down Williamstown, 2-1, for their 20th win of the year, the most wins for the program in a season in at least a decade. The victory was also Washington Township’s 19th consecutive against South Jersey opponents and gave the team a share of the Olympic Conference American Division title.
How was Washington Township able to go from two tough losses in the first week to blowing away the competition in the Olympic Conference? Senior Kade Cornelius said the answer is very simple.
“A lot of it was effort and chemistry,” he said. “I think chemistry is huge in volleyball. We’ve all been friends for years, since high school and even middle school. We hang out outside of school. Once we got the lineup together, we really meshed well.”
12 years later…TWP IS BACK ON TOP. Co-Olympic Conference Champs which means we’ll have 2019 in our gym forever. We’ve been blessed with so much?? @twppride @SuperintendWTPS @WTHS_Athletics pic.twitter.com/Qsb1M5X4wM
— TWP Volleyball (@TWPVOLL) May 16, 2019
The Washington Township lineup is a perfect blend of experience and young talent. Guetens, the team leader in kills this year, has also been a vocal leader for the Minutemen throughout the season.
“I love my guys, they’re my family,” he said. “So I kind of take on a brother role, where if someone makes a mistake, I’m there to pick them up. If I make a mistake, they’re there to pick me up.”
Cornelius towers over most opponents at 6-feet, 8-inches tall and has used his height to his advantage this year, leading the team in blocks.
“It’s somewhat of an intimidation factor,” he said. “They see the big guy on the court and it’s intimidating. But it means nothing unless I use it.”
The strong senior class has been complemented through the addition of a few key younger players this year. Junior outside hitter Ryan Cleary is second in kills behind Guetens and helped bring another dimension to the Minutemen’s offense. At setter, sophomore Tyler Jones has been huge in boosting the team’s offensive production, recording more than 500 assists this year.
“He’s great.” Cornelius said of Jones. “He helps me outside of team practices. We train alone sometimes. It’s awesome he can step up as a sophomore to be a leader on the team and on the court.”
Head coach Barbara McBrearty believes the outstanding depth and chemistry makes this year’s team unlike any she’s had since taking over as head coach of the boys program in 2004.
“This is the first year that I can say I have a bench that I can go deep,” she said. “And that’s a good thing.”
The Minutemen’s improvement can be seen in the results. Entering last Thursday’s regular season finale against Williamstown, Washington Township had only lost one other match since its 1-2 start. That loss was against the state’s No. 1 ranked team, according to NJ.com, Old Bridge. Washington Township lost, 2-0, but both sets were close, with the Minutemen falling 25-23, 25-20.
Outside of the Old Bridge match, the Minutemen had only lost two sets between April 5 and last Thursday – one against Kingsway on April 10 and another against Cherry Hill East on April 16. Both matches ended in 2-1 victories for Washington Township.
McBrearty believes this year’s team was motivated in part by the girls program, which had won 22 games as well as Olympic Conference and Gloucester County titles in the fall. With the team’s outstanding regular season and high win total, the Minutemen could easily match and eventually exceed what the girls program achieved in the fall.