Following a midseason injury to senior Christian Ramos that sidelined the experienced setter for nearly three weeks, the Williamstown boys volleyball team had a noticeable rough patch in its schedule.
After starting the season 5-0, the Braves went 2-5 over their next seven games, causing them to drop from contention in defending their 2021 Tri-County Conference title. But the recent Gloucester County tournament offered Williamstown the opportunity to show that its 5-0 start better reflected the team’s abilities than its midseason struggles.
Despite splitting the season series with both Kingsway and Clearview entering the tournament, Williamstown defeated both and emerged victorious as the first Gloucester County champions since the tournament was last held 2018-’19. And as the postseason nears, head coach Mark Avery said the Braves seem to be playing their best volleyball yet.
“I think now we’re starting to play some of our best volleyball of the season,” Avery said. “The county tournament was really an opportunity for us to test ourselves, and I challenged the guys to focus on that when it was upcoming. And it’s something they really grabbed a hold of, since it was something tangible that we could grab to show ourselves that we’re as good as we think we are.”
Senior Jesse Garczynski has emerged as Williamtown’s top outside hitter this year with a team-high 130 kills so far. The senior was named MVP of the recent county tournament after racking up 20 kills and nine digs between the two games against Kingsway and Clearview.
According to Avery, Garczynski spent the bulk of the season last year with the JV squad, something that can be a tough pill for a junior to swallow. Having been blocked by several big names on the varsity squad last year, Garczynski spent his time at JV perfecting his game and looked forward to getting his shot this season.
“He’s kind of been able to play all over the court due to his size, but he’s been dead set on being an outside hitter,” said Avery. “And I give him props, because he worked really hard at it and brings too much for me to not have him on the floor with what he’s able to do.
“He’s such an option for us now,” the coach added. “He’s brought his game to such a different level, that we have to get him the ball in games.”
The journey was a tough one for Garczynksi: As much as he wanted to play varsity last year, he took the opportunity to instead work on his passing and refine other skills to prepare for senior year. Having played such a big role in his team’s Gloucester County win, Garczynski has come full circle.
“It was frustrating last year to be honest,” he said. “But we had a great team last year, so I understood it. Now to have [won MVP this year], it’s honestly not something I expected or thought of at all. I feel really honored to have that title.
“Coming off a season last year where I didn’t see as much playing time on varsity as I wanted to, and now to have won this, it definitely makes me really proud of myself and what our team was able to do,” Garczynski added.
What the team’s been able to do this season after starting hot with plenty of new faces – and rebuilding chemistry all over again following Ramos’ ankle injury – was no small feat.
It’s been noticeably different, Ramos said, but the team’s dedication has kept players in high spirits all season.
“It’s definitely a different atmosphere now, but with the new members we had on the team to start this season, I felt like we adjusted pretty quickly,” he said. “We had that five- game win streak, and if I had stayed healthy, I felt like we could’ve kept it going.”
Like his coach said, the Gloucester County tournament offered Ramos and his teammates a chance to prove their worth against several tough conference opponents the Braves felt they could have beaten earlier in the season. So motivation for the tournament couldn’t have been higher. With playoffs approaching, Williamstown seems to have peaked at just the right time.
“That tournament got us pumped up going in, and now that we were able to win that, now we’re poumped up for the playoffs,” Ramos said. “The tournament showed us that we’re better than what some of our games earlier this season reflects, so on the right day with us all clicking, any game can be a good one for all of us.”