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Long Beach deals with adversity

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As if a daunting schedule wasn’t going to be challenging enough, Long Beach boys’ volleyball has yet to put its ideal lineup on the court and may not do so until playoff time.

The Marines, who finished county runners-up a year ago, lost their best all-around player and one of Long Island’s Top 10, senior outside hitter Ben Naouai, to a dislocated left knee Sept. 29 at the Plainview Tournament. A returning All-County performer, the 6-foot-3 captain leads Long Beach (2-5) in serving, kills and blocks.

“It was pretty bad, but he found out he doesn’t need surgery and could be back by the end of October,” coach Bill Gibson said of Naouai, who has a jump reach of 11 feet. “Ben’s not replaceable, but others are stepping up their games while he’s out. If he does come back healthy, we’ll be a much better team because of it.

“We haven’t had one match with everyone healthy,” he added. “And yet we’re right there.”

Long Beach earned a feel-good 25-20, 25-10, 25-20 victory over Farmingdale on Oct. 3 as seniors Jack Palmer and Eddie Perez tallied eight kills apiece and junior setter Dominick Cieleski, who missed 10 days in September with an ankle injury, dished out 20 assists. “It helped our confidence,” Gibson said.

With Naouai sidelined, the coach said there’s additional pressure on Palmer, a returning Honorable Mention All-County performer, and Perez, elevated to starter, to produce. Palmer is a three-year starter and a captain who was primarily used on the right side in 2017. Perez has taken the biggest leap of anyone on the roster with the increased playing time.

“They’re each getting the ball half the time in our offense,” Gibson said. “They’re not coming off the court.”

Cieleski is the lone setter in Gibson’s system after having the same role at the JV level last season. Cieleski had a career-high 41 assists in a Sept. 20 victory over Bethpage and is averaging better than 30 per match. “He has really good hands and has improved quite a bit,” Gibson said.

In the middle, a pair of basketball players new to the sport of volleyball are holding their own for the Marines. Juniors Evan Michaels (46 kills, 34 blocks in seven matches) and Brian Corrigan are still developing arm swings but making strides every day, Gibson said. “They’ve got that court vision from playing basketball that you just can’t teach,” he noted.

Defensively, junior libero Christian DelPrete, up from JV, is learning at an accelerated pace and getting the job done with an aggressive style. Seniors Harrison Phillips and Michael Hladky are providing a spark in the back row.

Plainview, Port Washington and Massapequa are the leading contenders for the county title, although Gibson believes the Marines belong in the conversation if they’re at full strength. “We need to improve as much as we can over the next few weeks, then jell again once Ben gets back,” he said.