Jack Hershman, who led Miami Southwest to the 2019 state championship match, is — by apparent consensus — one of the top three boys’ volleyball players in Miami-Dade and Broward counties this year.
The others are Southwest Ranches Archbishop McCarthy’s Omar Hoyos, a 6-foot-7 senior who has signed with George Mason; and Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons’ Michael Valenzi, a 6-1 senior who has signed to play for Penn State. Both are outside hitters.
Hershman, a 6-3, 177-pound junior outside hitter/libero, credits his older sister, former Southwest volleyball player Melody Hershman, with his early training.
“If I would make a bad pass, she would take the ball and spike it on my forearms,” Jack Hershman said. “I didn’t understand it until I got to my freshman year.
“Now, I thank her for that, and she takes full credit.”
Hershman, who comes from a family where just about everyone is a doctor, wants to study business and possibly law in college, although he has yet to pick a school.
He has grown two inches and 18 pounds since July. He owns an impressive 41-inch vertical leap that allows him to touch 11-feet-6. On a 10-foot basket, his shoulders can soar above the rim.
But even with his physical gifts, Hershman is a student of the game. He watches a ton of elite-level volleyball on Youtube to get an edge. His favorite player is French libero Genia Grebnnikov.
“College outside hitters are usually 6-6 or 6-7,” he said. “If you’re smaller, you have to be crafty to avoid getting blocked.”
Alain Suarez, who got to the state final last year in his first season as Southwest’s coach, has other standouts beyond Hershman. Alessandro DeLaO, a 6-1 sophomore libero with an unusual name, will “turn heads” this year, Suarez said.
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Eliezer Gonzalez, a 6-2 senior middle blocker, 5-6 freshman libero Alejandro Leon and 5-6 freshman setter Erick Pinzon are other standouts.
“Leon gets to every ball,” Suarez said.
Even so, Hershman is the proud leader of this Southwest program that won Florida’s first state title in 2003 and took the crown again in 2008. Southwest has also lost in the state final in 2009, 2010 and 2019.
Only three other Dade or Broward teams have won state titles in boys’ volleyball: Gibbons in 2005 and 2018; McCarthy in 2016; and Killian in 2017.
But while longtime Killian coach Clinton Reid said 2020 “will be a rebuilding year” for the Cougars, Gibbons and McCarthy are contenders for a state title.
McCarthy, playing last year under coach Corey Marks, lost in the state semifinals. After the season, Marks left the program to join FIU women’s volleyball staff.
At that point, former McCarthy coach Karen Frank returned to the team. She had stepped aside after the 2016 season to focus on her duties as McCarthy’s dean.
“I think I’ll only coach for this year, but we’ll see how it goes,” Frank said. “I’m excited. We have a group of six seniors who have been together since their freshmen seasons.”
One of those seniors is Hoyos, who came to McCarthy from Puerto Rico. Frank praised Hoyos as a humble leader with great court vision.
This will also be the first year McCarthy has hosted the state finals, and the Mavericks have a solid chance at playing for the title with the surrounding cast of seniors such as setter Matias Bernardina, 6-5 middle blocker Ray Lindl, 6-2 Austin Barbaris and 6-2 Evan Welch.
Meanwhile, Gibbons beat Southwest and South Broward in a preseason tournament and could be nationally ranked soon. They’ve been invited to Hawaii for “Clash of the Titans,” an elite tournament April 9-11.
Valenzi, who can touch 11-3, leads the way. He is the third elite Gibbons boys’ volleyball player to score a Division I scholarship, joining 6-6 Pepperdine sophomore JT Martin and 6-4 Princeton graduate Corry Short.
“[Valenzi] is an incredible leaper with a ridiculously fast arm swing,” said Mike Zarate, who has coached Gibbons since 2009. “He also has really good ball control.”
Other Gibbons standouts this year are libero J.J. Yancey and setter Jace Max, who both joined Valenzi on that 2018 state-title team;
6-5 senior outside hitter Callan Weaver, 6-3 senior middle blocker Mason Hunter and 6-5 junior middle blocker John Minor.
THIS AND THAT
▪ Miami Belen, which lost in the state quarterfinals to eventual champion Freedom, returns two standouts in 6-2 senior outside hitter Joseph Perez; and 5-9 senior Herman Suarez, who is “the top setter in Dade”, according to coach Friedman Sifontes.
“Herman controls the tempo and spacing of our offense and makes us difficult to stop at the net,” Sifontes said. “Perez is a third-year starter who has a fast arm and can hit from anywhere.”
▪ Miami Palmetto, which lost in the regional finals last year, returns two of the top players in Miami in 6-2 senior opposite hitter Leo Fernandez and 6-3 junior middle blocker Zachary Zambrana.
▪ Hialeah-Miami Lakes, which went 15-5 last year and advanced to the regional semifinals, returns 6-3 junior outside hitter Ah’mon Phillips, who had 153 kills last year.
▪ Ransom Everglades, which went 19-8 last season, returns 6-5 senior outside hitter Will Drody, who is one of the better players in Miami. Also watch for Nick Stone Perez, a 6-2 junior setter.
▪ Miami St. Brendan, which went 15-10 last year, returns its top player, 6-2 sophomore outside hitter Gabriel Maristany.
VOLLEYBALL KEY DATES
▪ District playoffs: April 27-May 2.
▪ Regional playoffs: May 5-8.
▪ State championships: May 15-16 at Archbishop McCarthy