Following a second-round loss at the hands of GCIT in the 2021 NJSIAA South Boys Volleyball Tournament last spring that ended Eastern’s season, then-senior Hemil Patel took a minute to speak with his teammates one last time before the last game of his high-school career.
Patel, the team’s main outside hitter during the 2020-’21 season, had just led the team in both kills and aces, with 126 and 38, respectively, in a year in which the Vikings went 19-4 to lead the Olympic Conference.
It was at that moment that then-junior Pawandeep Singh decided to make a promise to Patel for the upcoming season.
“Last year, after we lost our first game of the playoffs against Gloucester Tech, when we were ready to go home, Hemil Patel went around and said he was happy how everyone played and that we won conference,” Singh said. “So I made him a promise that we would win the Olympic Conference my senior year, too, and he told me that I better follow through on that …
“And I’m glad to say that I did.”
A year later, Singh and his fellow Eastern Vikings finished the season 18-5, while going 8-0 in the Olympic American Division and 12-1 in the Olympic Conference. That led to a NJSIAA South Boys Volleyball Tournament sectional finals appearance against Southern.
Individually, Singh collected 202 kills and 80 blocks during the 2022 season, both good for the most in the Olympic Conference and a spot on NJ.com’s All-State Third Team.
For that, Singh is South Jersey Sports Weekly’s 2021-’22 Boys Volleyball Player of the Year.
Heading into the season, coach Tom Armour had expectations that this year’s group would be better than the year prior. Despite posting a record this season with one fewer win and additional loss than last year, the Vikings made it all the way to the sectional finals while playing better all-around volleyball than the year before, according to Armour.
“I had the anticipation that we would be as good as last year, and hopefully better,” Armour said. “I think it was a better season even though the record might not reflect that; the kids played well together and were successful. The team overall had better skills and played better together as a team, with our passing specifically being a big difference-maker in that.”
As a middle, Singh plays a position that typically warrants him being substituted out when he is supposed to be in the back row. But on top of having two players with record-setting passing seasons in Cain Joynes and Satkirt Singh, the team also benefited from a middle who could stay on the court more than expected.
“Middles don’t typically play all around, unless they can pass, then they’ll show up in the back row,” Armour said. “So with [Pawandeep], that indicates that you’re a pretty special player.
“He ranks up there with the good ones to have come through our program.”
While Singh has received plenty of honors on the season for his play, he is quick to point out that he was only as strong as the rest of a team that made his individual season possible. Having played with a large group of this year’s squad last year in junior varsity, the chemistry was there from the start for a promising year in which the Vikings delivered.
“Every individual player working on their game made this season possible,” Singh said. “Elijah Dungca was an unsung hero for us; his serves kept us in games a lot of times. William Noh got a varsity letter last year as a sophomore and was big again this season. And there’s others I could point out, too.
“I can confidently say it wasn’t just me; these guys made me proud as hell.”