By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
The Kearny High School boys’ volleyball team just recently completed a phenomenal season, a year to remember, the best ever in the school’s history.
The Kardinals finished the year with a 20-5 record, the first 20- win season ever. They advanced to the Hudson County Tournament finals for the first time and went to the NJSIAA state sectional finals for the first time.
Unfortunately, the Kards ran into a buzz saw in state finalist St. Peter’s Prep, who knocked the Kardinals off in both championship matches. Amazingly, four of the five losses the Kardinals incurred this year were to the Marauders.
Head coach Bill Mullins finished his fourth season in charge of the Kardinals.
“I thought we had the chance to have a good year,” Mullins said. “But only three (team members) played on the varsity last year. Volleyball is the type of sport in Kearny where you don’t play until you get to high school.”
Like Bryan Rodriguez, who joined the team this season.
“He just came out for the team before we started practices and he ended up being our starting middle hitter,” Mullins said of the junior Rodriguez. “He became a terrific hitter in the middle.”
Mullins said that none of his players are members of a volleyball club which plays all year long.
Senior Joel Vivas was a starter along the front line last year and returned this year a better player.
“He’s a terrific player,” said Mullins of Vivas, who was also a fine basketball player at Kearny last winter. “He’s a big power hitter from the outside and a good all-around player.”
Mullins said that Vivas led the Kardinals in kills this season.
Senior Matheus De- Castro was a volleyball player as a sophomore at Kearny, but did not play at all last year.
“He had an injury last year and didn’t come out,” Mullins said. “But he became a good outside hitter for us this year.”
Senior Doug Chemin was another returning starter from last year.
“He’s a terrific middle hitter and an outstanding blocker,” Mullins said. “It was hard to stop him.”
Brian Fonseca, another senior, was a member of the junior varsity last year, but became the team’s setter for the final 10 matches of 2013.
“Our setter got hurt and he did a nice job stepping in,” Mullins said. “This year, he became the leader of the team, a very vocal guy.”
Junior Gustavo Chemin, Doug’s younger brother, was another outside hitter.
“He’s the best jumper on the team,” Mullins said. “He can really get up.”
The younger Chemin was also on the junior varsity last season.
Senior Kevin Serrano was the team’s starting outside hitter last year, but he was moved to the defensive specialist libero this season.
“I thought he could handle the job and he did a nice job,” Mullins said.
Senior Matheus Oliveira is another former junior varsity player who became a regular on the Kardinals’ back row this season.
Mullins said that he received a lot of assistance from veteran volleyball legend Don Guide, who was formerly the head coach at St. Peter’s Prep and Paramus Catholic.
“I used to always ask him for advice when we would go to clinics together,” Mullins said. “So he joined us this year. He brought in a lot of experience, especially in high level games. He was a valuable addition to our staff.”
Mullins said he also received assistance from his wife, Jacqueline.
“They both did a terrific job,” Mullins said.
Mullins thinks that the Kardinals played as well as they possibly could.
“I think we went as far as we could go,” Mullins said. “We gave Prep all they could handle, but we couldn’t get past them. In the county tournament, we were close. In the state tournament, we were close. We have to be able to win the close games.”
But Mullins had a gigantic sense of pride about his team. They went further than any other Kearny volleyball team and won more matches.
“I’m very proud of them,” Mullins said. “We worked hard to be consistently good and that’s what we became. The kids hung in there and battled all the way. I give them credit for the way they battled.”
Added Mullins, “They became a better team as the season moved on. They were mentally prepared to play in big games. I think that was really important. It’s not an easy task to ask them to get better. They have to want to get better. They did an excellent job in that aspect and I’m very proud of them.”
And it gives the Kearny volleyball program a ton of hope for the future.