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No. 16 Livingston vs. Millburn

ESSEX COUNTY TOURNAMENT FINAL

Friday, May 10 at Livingston High School in Livingston, 5:00 PM | HOOK

No. 16/1-Livingston (15-4) vs. 2-Millburn (11-3)

HOW THEY GOT HERE

Livingston: Livingston, the best player of the tournament, immediately received a bye in the first round and has not lost a set in three matches. The Lancers faced a first-set challenge from 17th-seeded Science Park in the first round, but dominated in the second set and that momentum carried straight into the quarterfinals. Eighth-seeded West Orange could only muster 12 points in the first set and nine in the second as Livingston reached the semi-finals, where it would face fourth-seeded Bloomfield in a rematch of last year’s final. The Bengals battled in both the first and second sets, but the Lancers won with a 27-25 second set win to advance to the finals.

Mill fire: The Millers also received an immediate bye into the first round of the tournament and during the first round two matches fully covered the competition. Millburn defeated fifteenth-seeded Montclair Immaculate in the first round and then seventh-seeded Orange in the quarterfinals, both also in straight sets, never conceding more than 20 points in a set against either opponent. The ECT’s toughest test and most entertaining match to date came in the semifinals against third-seeded West Caldwell Tech. The Millers dropped the opening set but then won the second by a close score of 25-22, then controlled the third set for a 25-16 win and a semifinal win.

CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY

Livingston: Since the Essex County Tournament first took place in 2005, Livingston has won 10 county titles and played in every final bar one (2009). The Lancers are the two-time reigning champions and are going for the first three times since winning three straight titles between 2011 and 2013.

Mill fire: Millburn does not have an Essex County Tournament championship to its name and has never appeared in the final before. Only four teams have ever won the ECT: Livingston (10), Bloomfield (six), Belleville (one) and Newark East Side (one).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Livingston

Duncan Sturt, S: In his first year as the starting setter for Livingston, Sturt has risen quickly and become one of, if not the best, junior setters in the state. He ranks in the state’s top-15 in assists with 393, coming off a 38-assist performance in a three-set win over Bergen Tech. In the Lancers’ semi-final win over Bloomfield, Sturt scored 24 assists. He was also present at the front of the net with 50 kills and 10 blocks. A player who can go on the attack, but can also contribute in other places. His performance will be crucial for the Lancers on Friday.

Arya Deshmukh, OH: Deshmukh is also a new starter for Livingston and was very good at the outside hitter position. He leads the Lancers with 124 kills and in the ECT he averages just over seven kills per match. He also ranks second on the team with 49 points and had 21 points in a two-set win over West Essex on Monday. He will be a fixture in the Lancers’ starting unit for the next two years.

Jon Hong, O: One of the few players returning from last season’s ECT title team, Hong has taken on a bigger role as a force for the Lancers this season. After tallying just 59 kills, 10 blocks and four digs as a junior, Hong already has 105 kills, 13 blocks and 31 digs in his senior season. He showed his ability to play both a good offensive and defensive game on Saturday when he had six kills, two blocks and three digs in a big two-set sweep of No. 7 Northern Burlington.

Shawn Xia, Ohio: Along with Hong, Xia helps create a strong two-player hitting unit for the Lancers. The junior has 105 kills in his first year of varsity action and just tied his career-high for kills in a match with 11 in the Lancers’ loss to Bergen Tech on Tuesday. In the ECT, Xia averages just over five kills in three matches.

Mill fire

Patryk Prybyszewski, O/MB: Prybyszewski has been the man to beat on Millburn’s roster for two years now. As a sophomore last season he totaled 125 kills, 15 blocks, 24 digs and 32 aces, but this year he has surpassed those numbers. Now just a junior, Prybezewski leads Millburn with 166 kills and has added 10 blocks, 102 digs and 32 aces. He is by far the best offensive option on Millburn’s roster and had a career-high 23 kills in the semifinals against West Caldwell Tech. In eight different games this season, Prybyzewski has reached double figures in kills.

Ishaan Modi, S/DS: Millburn had to fill a void this season following the graduation of setter Jason Lam, and Modi has stepped into that role seamlessly. In his first year as the starting setter, the sophomore has 333 assists and is only gaining more knowledge as he continues to shine in a crucial offensive role. Against West Caldwell Tech in the semifinals, he tied his career-high for assists in a game with 35. After Millburn’s four-game winning streak, he finished with at least 21 assists in every game.

Brandon Park, L/DS: Prybyszewski and Modi may be the attacking stars for Millburn, but Park does all the dirty work for the Millers. The senior, who plays libero and has been a defensive specialist for three years, leads Millburn in digs with 257 and is also a major threat from behind the service line with 56 service points and 15 aces. His grades have only improved throughout his high school career, and he enters the finals having recorded at least 20 points in each of Millburn’s last three games.

Noah Elder, MB/O: Elder is another standout defensive presence for Millburn, as the senior middle blocker and opponent leads the Millers with 26 blocks. So much attention will be focused on Przybyszewski and trying to limit him that it will free up space in the center of the field and in front of the net for Elder. If he can get a few blocks clear, it could go a long way in transferring the momentum to Millburn at any point in this match.

KEY FACTORS

Experience is important

Livingston has played in this exact game year in and year out and definitely has the experience factor on his side going into this year’s finals. This particular team may be made up of a new crop of players who don’t have a lot of individual experience when it comes to winning titles, but the Lancers’ head coach does. Dan Kim took over this program after Al Partelow and has done nothing but win and continue the tradition of Livingston being the dominant force in Essex County. Kim’s expectation is that the Lancers would at least make this game, but once they get here, you better believe he has his team prepared to go for the three-peat. Kim knows how to coach and win these types of games, whether they are close or exciting. That should play a big role on Friday night.

Prybyszewski slow down

Much of the focus of Millburn’s offense is on Patryk Prybyszewski, and for good reason. The junior has been the best hitter in the SEC this season and it shows in his numbers and his recent performance in the semifinals when he carried Millburn to a victory. But in two of the three games Millburn have lost this season, he has not put in his best performances. In Millburn’s loss to Belleville on Monday, he had just four kills, and in the Millers’ previous loss to Livingston this season on April 5, he had just seven kills. Millburn’s offense generally goes the way Prybyszewski goes. If he plays at his best and the Millers prepare him well to finish off offensive possessions, this game could take its course. But if he is contained, the Millers will likely have a harder time getting the win.

PREDICTION

Livingston 2, Millburn 1

Donovan Hugel can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on X @donohugel.

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