Upsets St. Peter’s in county semifinals, then falls to Bayonne in finale
By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
When the Harrison High School boys’ volleyball team reached the semifinals of the Hudson County Tournament last week, it would have been a crowning achievement on its own. After all, the Blue Tide comes from a Group I enrollment school, while most of the competition in the county tourney features much bigger schools.
“We’re not even supposed to be there,” said Harrison head volleyball coach Nick Landy. “We’ve been pretty good now for about four or five years, but we’re a small Group I school. All the others teams are much bigger.”
So last Thursday, Harrison traveled to downtown Jersey City to face St. Peter’s Prep, a program that has been featured as among the best in New Jersey for the last decade. The Marauders were ranked No. 9 in the state at the time of their semifinal showdown with the Blue Tide.
And Landy was confident that his little team could knock off the giant.
“I’m confident with the team we have,” Landy said. “We have a very good offensive team, maybe the best we’ve ever had. I’m always kind of positive. If you don’t think you can win, then you’re in trouble.”
Landy started to feel better about his team’s chances on Wednesday.
“The day before, we had a really good practice, maybe our best practice of the year,” Landy said. “That gave us a little bit of confidence.”
Landy said that he scouted the Marauders against Kearny and realized that his team had a legitimate chance of pulling off the upset.
“I realized that they weren’t as good as they had been in the past,” Landy said. “I knew that we were playing a really good team, but we had nothing to lose. If we played together and stayed away from mistakes, then we’ll see what was going to happen.”
However, things didn’t look good when the Marauders lost the first game of the match, 25-13.
“I thought we were in trouble,” Landy said. “But we’ve come back before. Some of it was just survival, but we started playing better.”
The Blue Tide rebounded and won the second game, 25-15, then stormed back and captured the deciding game by a 25-21 margin. They had shocked the Marauders, two games to one, to advance to the county tournament final against defending champion Bayonne.
It was clearly the biggest win in Harrison volleyball history.
“It was amazing,” Landy said. “It was brilliant. We spent a lot of energy on winning Thursday.”
The Blue Tide then had to come back and face Bayonne a day later.
“I wish we could have bottled what we did Thursday,” Landy said. “Some of what we did Thursday was surreal. I was walking around Friday in a fog after we beat St. Peter’s. We beat a powerhouse, the No. 9 team in the state. The kids were the same way. Emotionally, it was tough to overcome. I wish we had a few days before we played Bayonne. There was a lot of emotion going on.”
Unfortunately, the Blue Tide couldn’t overcome the emotional win on Thursday and fell in straight games, 25-15, 25- 19, to Bayonne at New Jersey City University Friday night.
“We suffered a tough loss,” Landy said. “But it was something to build on. I’m glad we were there. No one thought we could get there. It showed that the hard work paid off.”
Leading the way for the Blue Tide is senior outside hitter Carlos Gutierrrez, who is also the goalkeeper for the Harrison soccer team.
“When he’s on, he’s on,” Landy said. “He can hit the ball hard. He can serve. He can do it all.”
The team’s other outside hitter is senior Tijani Rezki.
“He’s like a court general and leader out there,” Landy said. “He keeps the team together. He leads the team in service points and is ranked among the top 10 in the state.”
The key middle hitter is senior Verinder Singh. The 6-foot-5 Singh controls the net every match.
“He finishes the play hard and usually stops the other team by blocking the ball,” Landy said.
Senior Matt Oliviera is another middle hitter.
“He’s also a good hitter and blocker,” Landy said. “He stepped it up big in the county tournament.”
Vinny Yoshimoto is the team’s setter. The junior Yoshimoto is a bundle of energy.
“He hustles and is all over the court,” Landy said. “He gets to balls that no one else could.”
Junior Piero Martinez is another setter.
“He’s a good student of the game,” Landy said.
The libero, or defensive specialist, is sophomore David Penaherrera.
“He’s a true libero,” Landy said. “He gets to every ball in the back. He knew the sport before he got here and that’s a big plus. He makes the future look very good.”
Freshman Piotr Namiotko stepped in and played a big role right away as a reserve outside hitter.
“He’s above any freshman we’ve ever had,” Landy said.
Junior Ramon Madiera came up big in the tourney as an outside hitter.
“Because he’s long and lanky, you would think he couldn’t hit the ball,” Landy said. “But he has surprising power. He’s going to be pretty good.”
The 16-7 Blue Tide will begin play in the Group II state tournament Thursday when they travel to face Summit.
“It’s been a great season,” Landy said. “Even with the way we played against Bayonne, we played well against a great team. Everything else now is gravy and we can build on it. We can use the experience in the county now for the state tourney.”
For Landy, it was a bit of a personal redemption, because he learned last week that he will not return as the head boys’ basketball coach, that another coach has been hired.
“I’m throwing everything into volleyball and hopefully, I think I’ll be around for a while,” Landy said. “But it’s been tough, really tough, with the other.” Landy is a dutiful soldier, as loyal as they come, to Harrison High.
He deserves the chance to be coaching a team in the program for many years to come.