Energy, camaraderie anchor Warriors boys volleyball team
| 7:34 a.m. April 23, 2015
It’s an away game, on a weeknight, but at times, it feels like the West Orange boys volleyball team is playing at home.
The Warriors’ junior varsity team cheers loudly, drowning out the fans there to support the home team, the Edgewater Eagles, and between each point, the players on the court are fired up.
Clad in Rugrats-theme high socks, senior Rajae Jones has perhaps the most energy of all, while fellow senior Sheldon Martin is the team’s most skilled outside hitter.
Collectively, these are some of the strengths of West Orange (9-9) this spring.
On the other hand, the Warriors — who fell to Edgewater, 3-1, April 15 — are young, relatively inexperienced and often inconsistent.
It makes for an entertaining and, at times, frustrating combination for head coach Ross Usie.
“Our weakness is definitely the mental game,” Usie said following the defeat to the Eagles. “We have a young team; I’m starting three freshman (who) aren’t used to this speed of game.”
To help balance the heavy underclassmen presence, Usie relies on Martin and Jones frequently.
“Sheldon brings the knowledge of the game — he knows what to do in certain situations,” Usie said of Martin, who also plays club volleyball. “(Jones) just has a lot of enthusiasm; he loves the game and he loves the guys.”
Although it cannot always overcome the inconsistent play, the dynamic of the team — a group of guys who seem to genuinely like each other — is valuable. When West Orange is playing well, it’s a party of sorts as the Warriors feed off one another’s energy.
And even when the team is down, the demeanor is still generally a positive one.
“When you’re a part of a high school varsity team, you’re playing for pride — you’re playing for your brothers,” Martin said. “This is where you play for your school, you play for your guys. You’re family — you’re a team.”
Alhough .500 is certainly a respectable mark, the 9-9 start for West Orange is a slight change of pace for Usie, who in the fall coached the girls team to its best season in program history. Beyond that, the boys game often can look quite different from its more popular counterpart.
“The boys game is a lot more physical, while the girls game is a lot more technical,” Usie said. “They like to hit; they don’t like to pass.”
The Warriors will finish the regular season with a game at 6 p.m. Thursday at Jones.
The loss to Edgewater could prove costly, and whether West Orange advances to the District 4 Tournament (which only takes the district’s top four seeds) next week depends on how other teams in the 10-team district finish.
Regardless, Usie expressed optimism in how his young team is looking for the future.
“Even though we might not have the best skill, overall, as a team, I think once we start to play together as a team … we’re something to not really mess with,” Usie said.