Kearny volleyball team opening eyes

The Kearny High School volleyball team is off to a brilliant start, compiling seven wins among their first nine matches.

Bill Mullins, who also doubles as the Harrison boys’ basketball coach, has been coaching the boys’ volleyball team at Kearny for the last six years. The Kardinals have enjoyed some signature victories thus far, including a win over state-ranked St. Peter’s Prep two weeks ago.

For a program that went only 9-13 a year ago, it’s almost unthinkable that they would turn it around so quickly.

“We lost only one guy from last year,” Mullins said. “We lost a lot of close games last year, so I knew we would be better this year. We had a good run for about three or four years, then we had a bit of a down year. We had to get better, considering we play with all the great teams in northern New Jersey.”

Mullins said that this was a perfect year for a resurrection.

“I don’t think there’s a superstar team or a superstar player in northern Jersey,” Mullins said. “There are a lot of good teams, but I think everything is wide open. I think what helped us is that we switched a couple of positions around and gotten better since the beginning of the season.”

Mullins said that he had a meeting with his team after an early season loss to Elizabeth.

“I asked them if they wanted to be good,” Mullins said. “I told them that they were a year older and we have some size. We should try to take care of the little things and be a little better. They’ve really worked hard to get better one day at a time. We’re not even thinking about the next game. Now we have to see what happens.”

Senior David Mrowko has become a mainstay on the team. The outside hitter leads the team in kills.

“He’s 6-foot-4 and has some nice size,” Mullins said. “He can hit the ball hard. He’s our hardest hitter. He’s a good player.”

Senior Andy Martinez is another solid outside hitter.

“He’s only 5-foot-9, but he gets the most out of his body than anyone,” Mullins said. “He has the best jumping ability on the team. He’s usually up against the bigger, taller guys.”

Sophomore Brandon DaSilva is a middle hitter.

“He’s a big, strong kid,” Mullins said. “He puts his hands up to block and it’s like a big paw. Once he learns to swing and hit, he’s going to be tough.”

Michael Fitzpatrick is a junior middle hitter who just switched positions.

“He likes playing in the middle,” Mullins said. “He’s a basketball player and a volleyball player and I think the two sports are related.”

Joseph Stawicki is a senior opposite hitter who has never played volleyball before this year.

“I would see the kid walking around the halls of the school and I asked other kids if he was a volleyball player,” Mullins said. “I then sought him out to see if he would come out for the team. Now, he loves it.”

Another basketball player is Samuel Reginald Myers, who has been playing volleyball for a while.

The setters are senior Jorge Intriago and junior Ethaniel Vega.

“I like using two setters,” Mullins said. “If we use one setter, we would be put at a disadvantage.”

The libero is junior Leonardo Ferrari, who has the name more of an Italian movie star as opposed to a volleyball player.

“He does a real nice job,” Mullins said of Ferrari. “We’re a better scrappy team and that’s important. You want a team that’s scrappy.”

Senior Anthony Paz is a solid player who plays a host of roles.

“He went in and played setter,” Mullins said. “He also plays along the front row or the back row. He can play any position.”

Renzo Santa Maria is a senior who plays along the back row.

“He can also play libero if needed,” Mullins said. “He’s a good defender.”

Daniel Veloso is a senior who also has versatility.

“He can play anywhere on the front row,” Mullins said.

Junior Aaron Mantilla and junior Jeff Cruz also provide good depth. Mantilla plays along the back line with Cruz more of a front row player.

The Kardinals just returned from the Hackensack Tournament, where they beat teams like Clifton, Memorial of West New York and Jefferson before falling to host Hackensack.

“We came in second in the tournament to Lakeland,” Mullins said. “I think it’s good for our confidence. We still have to prove ourselves a little.”

But the Kardinals have a legend on their side in Hall of Fame coach Don Guide.

Guide was the long-time head coach at Paramus Catholic and St. Peter’s Prep who retired a few years ago, but then came back a few years ago.

“I constantly asked Don for advice,” Mullins said. “When he retired, his wife told me that he was interested in getting back into it and I jumped on it. I called Don up and he’s been great with us. He’s very good with technique. He’s a volleyball lifer who brings all this great knowledge and experience.”

Guide coaches the Kardinals’ junior varsity program while helping Mullins with the varsity.

“I’m glad to have him,” Mullins said. “This team is having a lot of fun. You never know where we’ll end up. We’ve been fortunate to have won some of the matches we’ve won. We’re not taking anything for granted, but we have to stay focused and keep going forward.”

Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer