Harrison adds new volleyball title: State champs!!!

Photo courtesy Matthew Boryszewski The Harrison boys’ volleyball team show that they’re No. 1 after defeating Livingston last Friday night in three sets to capture the first-ever NJSIAA state sectional title in the school’s history.
Photo courtesy Matthew Boryszewski
The Harrison boys’ volleyball team show that they’re No. 1 after defeating Livingston last Friday night in three sets to
capture the first-ever NJSIAA state sectional title in the school’s history.

Over the years, the trophy case at Harrison High School has been filled with state championship awards from a host of different teams.

Of course, no other soccer team in New Jersey – and the entire United States for that matter – has won as many NJSIAA titles as the Blue Tide has earned over the years. There are 25 state title trophies housed in the glass cases in the high school, including the overall Group I crown the Blue Tide garnered last November.

The Harrison football team has its place in the trophy case, winning the 1986 North Jersey Section 1, Group II championship, not to mention the others collected before a playoff system was implemented in 1976.

Under the tutelage of legendary Hall of Fame coach Jack Rodgers, the Harrison girls’ basketball program added a handful of state titles to the case, including the overall 1991 Group II championship and the 1986 Group II team that finished as the state runner-up.

Well, it’s time to clear some room for another state champion at Harrison. You can add the boys’ volleyball team to the list of Blue Tide state champions.

Harrison defeated Livingston, a perennial state volleyball powerhouse, in three sets Friday night in the Harrison High gymnasium, losing the first set, 25-22, then storming back to win the final two by 25-22 and 25-16 margins, to capture the NJSIAA North Jersey Group II state sectional title.

Obviously, it marked the firstever state championship for the Harrison boys’ volleyball program.

The Blue Tide now moves on to the overall state Final Four. Harrison (29-2) was set to take on Southern Regional in the overall state semifinals at South Brunswick in a match held after press time Tuesday.

Fair Lawn and Bridgewater- Raritan were the other state semifinalists. The other three schools have Group IV enrollment in the eyes of the NJSIAA. Harrison is a Group I school.

The Blue Tide, who already captured their league and Hudson County championships this season, had to knock off another perennially powerful program in St. Peter’s Prep just to get to Friday’s state sectional title game.

Harrison head coach Nick Landy said that defeating local rival St. Peter’s once again provided the impetus needed to take on a powerhouse like Livingston.

“I felt at least we were on the same level with Prep,” Landy said. “We beat them twice before in the regular season. We knew we couldn’t take them for granted and knew that they would be a different team facing us again. We were ecstatic to get that one, then we had to get ready to face Livingston.”

In Livingston, Landy knew that the Blue Tide would have to work especially hard to claim the state crown.

“Two other times in the past, they stopped us in the state tournament,” Landy said of Livingston. “We’re the smaller school playing the bigger school, so we knew that it was going to be tough. But we’ve been saying that for most of this season. We had to beat all bigger schools.”

Landy said that he was optimistic about the Blue Tide’s chances before the match.

“I spoke to a few other coaches who faced them and they all said they liked our chances,” Landy said. “That gave me a little bit more confidence. Our coaches went to go see them play in the early part of the season, so we knew what we were going up against. It was also a nice advantage to have playing at home.”

Landy said that the local turnout was fantastic and that gave the Blue Tide an added edge.

“There’s something about our gym and our kids playing in our gym,” Landy said. “The kids were up for it. The crowd was unbelievable. I hadn’t seen it like that for any sport. Some of our opponents, like Kearny, were there, cheering for us. It really was amazing.”

However, things didn’t exactly go Harrison’s way to start the match, losing the first set.

“I was a little bit nervous and I think the kids were too,” Landy said. “We fell behind, 22-12, but we just didn’t have enough to get over the hump. But I was encouraged by the way we battled back. I told the kids that we now had to play three (sets). They just buckled down and played like we have all season. They made some mistakes and we were able to capitalize on them. Everyone stepped it up and did the job.”

Standout middle hitter Piotr Namiotko, who is looking more and more like a state player of the year candidate, had 10 kills and seven blocks.

But it wasn’t just Namiotko. Jimmy Vega had an amazing 29 assists, six digs and three service poits. David Penaherrera, who now has a state soccer and state volleyball championship to his credit, had 12 digs, 15 service points and six kills. Gerson Pachas had 13 digs and six kills. Antonio Almeida had four kills, two blocks and three digs.

“It’s such a great feeling,” Almeida said. “We were able to bring a state trophy back to our school for our fans and our coaches. We all put so much hard work and effort since the beginning of the season and it all paid off. We are where we want to be. It’s so phenomenal. It feels great to be with the others like Fair Lawn, Bridgewater and Southern. It’s amazing, considering we’re a Group I school.”

Almeida said that playing at home made a big difference Friday night.

“The fans have been great, coming out to support us,” Almeida said. “They’re going all out for us, so we had to go all out for them. In the beginning of the season, we set goals to win the league, win the county and win the states. We wanted to be playing in the state (Final Four) instead of watching it.”

In years past, the Blue Tide collectively went to watch the state championships. Now this year, Harrison will be in uniform.

Maciej Gaus had five kills, including the decisive final point, and one block. Frank Contreras added eight digs and Jimmy Chen had three digs and five service points. It was definitely a collective team effort.

“I’m just speechless,” Landy said. “I’m not usually speechless in my life, but I am now. This is incredible. Whatever happens now is gravy. We have a great group of kids who want to compete, who love playing together and want to be together.”

The Blue Tide has now drawn even with the 1991 girls’ basketball team for most wins in a season at the school. It will take a lot of work to get past Southern Regional, one of the two teams to defeat Harrison this year.

Ironically, Fair Lawn is the other. Fair Lawn put an end to Belleville’s incredible season in the Group I sectional title game Friday. It was that close to have two of the state’s Final Four participants residing less than a mile apart of each other. Credit to John Spina and the Buccaneers, who won their first-ever Essex County championship earlier this season, for a year to remember.

Landy likes his team’s chances against Southern this time around. The Blue Tide lost 25-21 and 25-19 to Southern earlier this season.

“We were pretty close with Southern,” Landy said. “I chalk up that loss to a bit of nervousness. But we’re ready this time. We’re the little guy going up against the big schools. You never know what can happen. We’re going to give it a shot. It all depends on who’s the better team that night. We’re excited to be going there.”

Regardless of what takes place, Landy will always hold this volleyball season dear to his heart.

“It’s been the best season of my life,” Landy said. “It’s taken me 23 years to get here, but it has been definitely worth the waiting. I’m so proud of these kids for going after every goal we set and then finally getting there.”

There are two steps on the ladder left to climb. The Blue Tide, now a state champion for the first time, is ready to make even more history.

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”