Harrison’s Barreto a do-everything volleyball wizard

Photo courtesy Anthony Sabia Harrison junior outside hitter Maria Barreto.
Photo courtesy Anthony Sabia
Harrison junior outside hitter Maria

Maria Barreto was a late bloomer when it came to the sport of volleyball. But in the case of the Harrison High School junior, it’s better late than never.

A native of Uruguay who came to the United States as an infant, Barreto never played volleyball until she entered Harrison High almost three years ago.

“I used to play a little bit in gym classes,” Barreto said. “My brother (Facundo) played volleyball in high school (at Harrison in 2010) and he really liked it. He talked to me about it and told me how much he liked it, so I decided to give it a try.”

However, things didn’t start out glowingly when Barreto tried out for the Blue Tide. “At first, it was really hard,” Barreto said. “I didn’t know where I was supposed to be on the court. I couldn’t get it right. I couldn’t serve the ball over the net. I really thought about quitting. I don’t like the thought of quitting anything, but it was really frustrating for me.”

Thanks to Barreto’s parents, Maria didn’t give up on volleyball.

“They told me I could do it,” Barreto said of her parents. “I just pushed myself to be there.”

Anthony Sabia, the former and current head girls’ volleyball coach at Harrison, knew that Barreto had talent.

“I never had the chance to see her play before I took the job again this year,” said Sabia, who was the head coach in 2011 and 2012, then took a hiatus before returning this season. “But when I had her in practice this year, I knew she was talented. I just wanted to see if I could get her to play at her full potential. I knew that she came from good volleyball stock, you can say. I knew she had the ability and potential. We just had to put it all together.”

Barreto decided to make volleyball her sport, thanks to the encouragement of her family.

“They kept pushing me to become better,” Barreto said. “Eventually, I got better with my passing and my serving. Two years ago, I could not serve the ball over the net.”

The perseverance and persistence has now paid off, as Barreto has become the best player and emotional leader on the Blue Tide team that has won two matches in the NJSIAA Group I state playoffs.

The 20th seeded Blue Tide first defeated Hasbrouck Heights in the first round, 32-30 and 25-22, to advance to the next round, then knocked off North 13th Street Tech of Newark in straight sets, 25-17, 25-18 to advance to the state quarterfinals for the first time in school history.

The Blue Tide’s season ended with a 25-14, 25-14 loss to Glen Rock in the state quarterfinals last Tuesday.

In the win against North 13th Street Tech, Barreto had 10 kills. She had 11 kills and three service aces in the win over Hasbrouck Heights. Barreto added 11 digs and four kills in the loss to Glen Rock.

For her efforts, Barreto has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

This season alone, Barreto has 137 service points and 117 kills.

“I’ve improved a lot over the last two years,” Barreto said. “Basically, every day, I try to play volleyball. I love the sport. Even if we have a day off from practice, I go to the open gym and try to play. I play on the beach in the summer. I’m always trying to play to get better.”

Barreto also has the ability to play every position on the court.

“It’s a good thing,” Barreto said. “Coach (Sabia) always tells me that since I’m the captain, I have to try to help everybody on the team. So that’s what I do. I’m probably best at outside (hitter), but I can serve and pass and hit the ball.”

Barreto was asked what it was like to be part of the most successful Blue Tide girls’ volleyball team in school history.

“Honestly, that’s been so crazy,” Barreto said. “Being the first ever to reach the quarterfinals is amazing and something so nice.”

And as for her improvement?

“I never thought it was possible that I could be the Athlete of the Week,” Barreto said. “I really thought it was impossible. It’s a great honor and I’m so proud.”

Sabia is amazed watching Barreto’s improvement.

“She makes plays that don’t show up on the score sheet and makes plays that most girls don’t even try to make,” Sabia said. “She does a lot for us. She plays up front. She goes to the back row. She’s now our best server. She’s probably the biggest reason why we’re in the Group I quarterfinals. We’ve never been here before. The whole team has come along with Maria, but she’s done a great job.”

Sabia knows now that he has a leader for next year’s team.

“I expect a lot more from her next season,” Sabia said. “It turned out to be a pretty good season and Maria was a very big part of it.”

Sabia said that Barreto is a good student and could solidify some college roster in two years.

“I definitely think she could play in college,” Sabia said. “She could definitely help someone’s program. I hope she gets that opportunity.” Sabia said that Barreto will more than likely play for a club volleyball team in the offseason to enhance her college status.

Barreto said that she hopes to study nursing, sports medicine or early childhood education in college, but wants to play volleyball as well.

“I’ve thought about it a lot and I really would like to play in college,” Barreto said. “Hopefully, some college will take notice and give me a chance. I love playing volleyball so much. It’s so much fun. I never realized what it would lead to.”

It’s led to a first-ever berth in the state quarterfinals – and the chance to be a local weekly newspaper’s Athlete of the Week.

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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.”