If you ask Maciej “Mack” Gaus what his favorite sport is, the Harrison High School senior might give you a different answer, depending upon the time of year.
In the fall, the answer might be soccer, a sport that Gaus has played for most of his life, a sport where he is a standout goalkeeper for the famed Blue Tide program.
But in the spring, Gaus could answer volleyball, a sport that Gaus has played for the last three years, helping the Blue Tide rise from obscurity into one of the most respected programs in the entire state.
Gaus was asked if playing one sport helps the other.
“I think playing multiple sports is beneficial to me,” Gaus said. “It helps me with my eye/hand coordination and helped to increase my speed to the ball. Volleyball is a fast paced sport and there’s a lot of action. I always have to be quick to react to the ball. If a strong hitter hits the ball and I’m not ready, then it’s not good. I have to be ready to try to get the dig.”
Or if someone has a strong leg and fires a shot toward goal, Gaus has to be poised to stop the shot.
“The volleyball comes quick at you, but so does the soccer ball,” Gaus said.
Gaus first played soccer.
“It was my primary sport, but I really never took it seriously until I got to high school,” Gaus said. “I never played on any club team or anything.”
In fact, Gaus took a year off from soccer last year to strictly concentrate on playing volleyball.
“I played on a club team (Side Out Sports in Fairfield) with four of my Harrison teammates,” Gaus said. “We wanted to win the state championship, so we all played together. I didn’t want to be left out. I had a chance to work on my skills.”
The Blue Tide made it all the way to the overall NJSIAA championship last year, falling to Southern Regional in the title match.
Since Gaus was one of the lone returnees from last year’s season to remember, there was some pressure on him to lead the way.
“I felt a good amount of pressure,” Gaus said. “Harrison is now known for its good volleyball program. I had to try to make sure we could get there again. I didn’t want to be part of the senior group that failed. I wanted to continue the legacy.”
But playing at such a high level of intensity isn’t easy.
“He was our most experienced kid,” said Harrison head volleyball coach Nick Landy. “We were counting on him to be our big-time leader. He was the biggest piece we had left.”
In the beginning of the season, that idea just didn’t work.
“He was trying to do everything,” Landy said. “He wasn’t sure if anyone else could do it. I told him that he couldn’t take on the entire team. He just had to relax and be himself. He’s more of a lead by example kind of guy. He doesn’t get too vocal. He’s pretty reserved.”
Landy said that Gaus also had another problem before this season _ which was basically staying on the court.
“He was very injury prone,” Landy said. “He couldn’t stay away from getting hurt.”
So before the current season took place, Gaus enlisted in a weight training regimen to get bigger and stronger.
“It helped him out a great deal,” Landy said. “He worked out in the gym and got stronger. It enabled him to hit the ball harder. He also played a lot in the offseason and that helped him. Plus, he has the experience of playing on a good team, the experience of playing in big games.”
Gaus said that he worked all year on improving his hitting skills.
“I would go to open gyms,” Gaus said. “I also have to give some credit to my teammates. I wouldn’t be as successful without them.”
Last Wednesday, the Blue Tide faced neighboring rival Kearny for the third time this season.
“All three matches were very important,” Landy said.
The first one enabled the Blue Tide to reach the .500 level at 12-12 at the state playoff cutoff, so it meant that the Blue Tide could successfully defend the Group II sectional title they won the last two seasons.
The second one was for the Hudson County Tournament, also won by the Blue Tide, enabling Harrison to advance to the county finals against St. Peter’s Prep.
The third one last week was in the North Jersey Section 2 quarterfinals, also won by the Blue Tide by a 25-19, 25-21 score.
In the match, Gaus registered 10 kills, four digs, four service points (including one service ace) and one block.
And for his efforts, Gaus has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
“Even though we beat them before, I was really nervous,” Gaus said about facing rival Kearny. “This was the state tournament. If we lost, it was over. All we’ve been thinking about was getting back to the state championships. I want to go back and have another shot.”
Gaus said that the team struggled early on.
“I think in the beginning of the season, the team chemistry wasn’t as strong,” Gaus said. “That caused us to lose a few games.”
But Gaus believes the Blue Tide’s fortunes changed during their trip to Rhode Island.
“We played in the Rhode Island tournament and I think we really drew closer as a team,” Gaus said. “After we came home from Rhode Island, the team started to play much better.”
Landy believes that Gaus is the reason for the turnaround.
“He’s doing his job,” Landy said. “He makes sure that everyone gets back on track.”
Gaus has been outstanding leading the way with 207 kills, 175 service points and 30 service aces and 160 digs. He even has 27 assists, which is a lot for someone who plays at the net.
Gaus is also an excellent student. He maintains a 4.04 grade point average and plans to study mechanical engineering at Essex County College in the fall. Collegiate volleyball is not in the plans, nor is soccer. Academics take precedence here.
“I was getting looked at by some colleges, but they didn’t get me enough to afford college,” Gaus said. “The season’s not over. I can do much better and make this a very successful year.”
The Blue Tide (18-13) will face nemesis St. Peter’s Prep in the sectional semifinals Wednesday afternoon in Jersey City.
If the Tide can rise high, then it will definitely be a successful campaign for Gaus and his teammates.
Harrison senior outside hitter Maciej Gaus. Photo by Anthony Sabia