Peter Zisa of Fair Lawn is the NJ.com boys volleyball Coach of the Year, 2017 – NJ.com

Finding the right lineup and knowing when it is time to make a change can be some of the most challenging decisions that a coach can make.

For Fair Lawn coach Peter Zisa, that time came in the first weeks of the season.

The Cutters lost four matches in the first two weeks of the season and it became apparent that some things had to change. First, Billy Joyce moved from his natural position of opposite to outside hitter. The season also started with Joseph Breuer at setter and Dan Donenfeld playing outside hitter, but that arrangement did not work, so Zisa decided to move Donenfeld to setter and Breuer became the team’s libero.

The moves all paid off for the Cutters late in the season. It lost just four regular-season matches the rest of the way en route to the Bergen County Tournament title and with its seventh North Jersey, Section 1 title in eight years. The Cutters knocked off Ridge in the state semifinals and reached their first state final since 2012.

Because of what this team accomplished this season, Peter Zisa is the 2017 NJ.com Coach of the Year.

“Once that (lineup) was in place, then it’s a testament to the work that they are putting in on a day-to-day basis when they get in the gym, they’re continuing to grow,” Zisa said after the team’s state semifinal win over Ridge. “So it’s all attributable to the fact that they were eager to become better. Once they started experiencing some success beginning in the county tournament, that really led us to achieve another level and has gotten us to a state championship game.”

Joyce finished the year with 376 kills and 192 digs at outside hitter. Donenfeld, after making the switch to setter, totaled 800 assists, while Breuer had 326 digs at libero.

It was even more important to figure out the correct lineup, because Fair Lawn graduated nine seniors from last year’s sectional finalist, with just two starters returning. The team improved drastically as the season went on, playing its best volleyball in the county and state tournaments. It beat Ramapo in three sets in the Bergen County final, 25-20, 23-25, and 25-17.

Then, in the state tournament, the Cutters faced more obstacles when they had to go on the road to face Wayne Valley in the sectional semifinals, then Lakeland in the finals. It was able to come through, as it beat Wayne Valley- which upset the Cutters in last year’s sectional final- 25-23, 27-25, before taking Lakeland down in three sets in the final, 32-30, 23-25, 25-18.

“It’s a testament to the volleyball in the north in terms of how much its grown,” Zisa said. “Every year now, it’s going to be a significant challenge just to get here. But for us to overcome the obstacles and have to be road warriors for two matches against teams that we didn’t have much success against, it means a lot.”

It was important for this group to re-establish itself as a state power, after it failed to win the sectional title last year for the first time in six years. It did just that, as it now owns seven titles in eight years.

“It means the world to me and to the program,” Zisa said of his team’s state tournament run. “Especially this particular group, because no one would have ever given us the opportunity to get here. For them to really understand what it means to play great volleyball, understand that they’re capable of playing great volleyball, then to do it in the biggest of moments. We had to win two humongous games on the road against great teams in the north.

“I’m just really proud of what they’ve become and how far they’ve grown.”

Peter Zisa of Fair Lawn is the NJ.com boys volleyball Coach of the Year, 2017 – NJ.com

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