By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
When Nick Landy began his coaching career years ago, he never would have imagined he would attain a milestone coaching volleyball.
“No, not at all,” said Landy, who has coached baseball, basketball and football during his career in Harrison.
But while Landy was a student at Bergen County Community College, he took a course on volleyball.
“I actually enjoyed it,” Landy said. “I wanted to get involved in the sport.”
Landy later became an assistant coach with the Harrison High School volleyball program and after two years, he was elevated to head coach.
During the first year that Landy ran the program, the Blue Tide won all of three matches.
“We were 3-20,” Landy said. “It was a rough season.”
Landy also coached the varsity and the junior varsity squads.
“I coached both teams by myself,” Landy said.
After a while, Landy was able to get a dutiful assistant in Anthony Sabia.
“We work well together,” Landy said. “It helps to have a knowledgeable assistant. The kids all bought into the program. The (Harrison) Recreation department helped us out by giving us some gym time in the off-season. The open gyms helped the younger kids to want to get involved. We also got help at the (Harrison) community center. The people that work there became big fans and got behind our program. They really enjoy it.”
Soon, Harrison became a volleyball town, much like it is a soccer community.
“The South American kids and Polish kids love soccer, but they also love volleyball,” Landy said. “It helps that the kids play both sports. We’ve put a lot of work into making the volleyball team more competitive.”
The interested kids also put the time into the sport.
“They put a lot of work into it, practicing, watching videos,” Landy said. “They realized it’s an exciting sport. Kids in the schools are coming to see it because they know it’s exciting as well.”
It helps that the Blue Tide program became proficient and has done a complete 360-degree spin since that first year of three wins.
The Blue Tide defeated Garfield last Thursday to give Landy the 100th win of his coaching career in just six years. It says a lot about a program that won just three times during that fateful first season.
“The kids came in with just a little more bit of knowledge of the sport,” Landy said. “I think it helps that there is now a volleyball program in the middle school program.”
And there is a program now at Harrison. It’s not a fly-by-night operation. The Blue Tide won 17 matches a year ago and advanced to the second round of the Hudson County tournament and state NJSIAA North 1, Group II.
And so far this season, the Blue Tide has won all five of its matches.
There is a bit of a change, as the Blue Tide has joined a league in western New Jersey, of all places, facing perennial power Vernon (whom the Blue Tide has already defeated this year), as well as Jefferson, Dover and Pope John.
“We’ve taken some long rides,” Landy admitted.
Lyndhurst is now also a part of the west Jersey league.
Landy said that the Blue Tide has independent matches scheduled against local teams like Bayonne, McNair Academic of Jersey City and state power St. Peter’s Prep, as well as local rival Kearny, but since Harrison is a member of the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference for all other sports, they cannot join the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League for volleyball.
“We would fit in perfectly there,” Landy said. “But we don’t want to leave the league we’re in just for volleyball.”
Landy likes the makeup of his team.
“We really have high hopes for this season,” Landy said. “We only lost three seniors from last year’s team and we have a strong junior class.”
The Blue Tide will head this weekend to the Hackensack Invitational, a tournament that they won twice in the last three years.
“We’re looking forward to that again,” Landy said. “It’s one of our early goals.”
Landy said that he wasn’t too shocked with the Blue Tide’s early season success.
“I wasn’t totally surprised,” Landy said. “I knew we had a tough match against Hunterdon Central, because they had just defeated two state-ranked teams. But we won that one. If we play to our abilities, we should be fine. The kids all get along pretty well and that helps.”
Junior Gerson Pachas is the team’s outside hitter.
“He’s pretty solid,” Landy said of Pachas. “He’s played club volleyball, so that helped him improve tremendously in one year. He’s strong and has the ability to put the ball down the line.”
Junior Piotr Namiotko is the team’s middle hitter.
“He’s one of the fiercest hitters around,” Landy said. “He has collected double-digit kills almost every match. He’s a major factor around the net. It’s almost like he levitates in Senior David Penaherrera is the Blue Tide’s outside hitter. Penaherrera, also a member of the Harrison state championship soccer team, is a four-year starter for the Blue Tide in volleyball. “He came in as a freshman, earned a spot and he’s never come off,” Landy said. “I have used him in practically every position.”
Sophomore Maciej Gaus is the Blue Tide’s opposite hitter.
“He’s been a pleasant surprise,” Landy said. “He’s grown into hitting the ball well and gets it to spots.”
Junior Jimmy Vega is the team’s setter.
“Not only has Jimmy done a great job in setting the ball, but he leads the team in service points,” Landy said.
Vega also comes from good stock, as his cousin, Victor Narvaez, was another standout setter for the Blue Tide a few seasons ago.
The libero is junior Frank Contreras.
“He’s been there for three years and it’s his second year as the libero,” Landy said. “He’s our best guy in the back defending and passing.”
Senior Jimmy Chen offers assistance along the back line and senior Tony Almeida is another middle hitter “who is coming into his own,” according to Landy.
The Blue Tide faces Lyndhurst, St. Peter’s Prep and Dover this week, with the Dover match at home on Friday.
“I’m very excited with what’s going on,” Landy said.
“The 100-win thing is all behind me. I like this team’s intensity. They want to win. I’m looking forward to what this team is going to do.”
As for the next milestone of 200?
“I don’t know if I’ll make it to 200,” Landy laughed.
Honestly, he never dreamed he’d get to 100, but he’s done that now, which was quite an accomplishment in itself.