Harrison repeats as Hudson volleyball champs

When Harrison High School won the school’s first-ever Hudson County Tournament volleyball championship a year ago, it was considered a major accomplishment, because the Blue Tide had never won a county title in the sport before.

But after defeating Bayonne in straight sets, 25-15 and 25-21, last Saturday night at Hudson Catholic in Jersey City, the Blue Tide now has two straight county titles to their credit.

“It is an amazing accomplishment to win two straight,” said Harrison head coach Nick Landy. “I’m so happy for these guys. They’ve worked so hard to get back here, especially the senior group. They lost to Bayonne in the finals as sophomores and then set their goals to winning the county title. Now, they’ve won it twice. They’re very excited to have come out on top.”

Especially since in the second set, it appeared as if it was slipping away from the Blue Tide.

Bayonne scored 11 straight points to take command of the second set with a 12-5 advantage.

And as everyone knows, volleyball is a momentum sport, perhaps more than any other.

“I was pleased with the way we played in the first set,” Landy said. “But in the second set, we lost a little focus and we were in an unfamiliar position. Bayonne was definitely a better team (Saturday) than the one we played in the regular season.”

With the set slipping away and perhaps the match, junior middle hitter Michal Niczewski took over.

Niczewski, who was a reserve on last year’s county champion, took command at the net, scoring two blocks and two kills in a span of six straight points, to stem the tide for the Blue Tide.

“We were down by seven points and were in kind of a rut,” Landy said. “But Mike made a few key blocks and hits and that put us back in our winning ways.”

Niczewski finished the game with six kills and three blocks, etching his place in Harrison folklore, like the hundreds of soccer players who have captured league, county and state titles over the years.

“Mike was really hitting the ball with authority,” Landy said. “He really stepped it up, especially with Piotr (Namiotko) on the backline in the rotation.”

Namiotko, whom Bayonne Hall of Fame coach Pat Longo said was the best all-around player in New Jersey, had 12 kills and it was only fitting that Namiotko had a kill to preserve the championship for the Blue Tide.

“When Piotr is in the back and Mike is up front, it gives us a two-pronged attack,” Landy said.

Maciej Gaus was also solid in the back, collecting digs.

“Maciej got us a couple of digs and the rest just followed suit,” Landy said. “They really played together. They battled back and got it done. That’s Harrison for you. We always battle.”

Landy was asked if there was a bulls’ eye on his back this year, considering the Blue Tide was playing as the defending champion and no longer the upstart underdog from the smaller school.

“That was a little different feeling,” Landy said. “We could sense that everyone wanted to play us, that they were looking forward to playing us.”

Senior Gerson Pachas also knew that the Blue Tide had to play like defending champs.

“We didn’t know what teams we were going to face in the counties,” Pachas said. “We thought that maybe (St. Peter’s) Prep would be one of the teams. We know that the other teams wanted to knock us down. We just had to keep working hard and keep working together.”

The Blue Tide is also your United Nations of volleyball. They have natives of Ecuador and the Dominican Republic on their team. They have players from Spain and Eastern Europe. They really are a global high school team.

“That’s a lot like what Harrison is,” Landy said. “I see it every day in school, kids from all over the world. It really doesn’t matter where they’re from, with families that come from different walks of life and cultures. But they all come together when they need to.”

“We’re so comfortable with each other and communicate well together,” Pachas said. “We’re all same minded and want the same things. We know that we’ve played together for so long that we’ve built up this connection. We’re all friends. That’s what made us good.”

The Blue Tide will now take their 32-4 record into the NJSIAA state tournament. They will face Union High School in the first round of the states, scheduled for Tuesday.

“I know that there are many teams that want to take us down,” Pachas said. “But recently, we saw the Southern Regional team and the coach said, ‘See you in the state finals.’ I said to him, ‘You can count on it.’ We plan on being there. It’s a good feeling I have about this team.”

Landy feels the same way, especially about his four seniors _ Pachas, Namiotko, setter Jimmy Vega and libero Frank Contreras.

“All four have been together through everything for four years,” Landy said. “We still have a lot of work to do. But we’re getting there.”

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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.”