Dream season comes up one match short for Harrison volleyball


Three years ago, Harrison High School boys’ volleyball coach Nick Landy brought his team in unison to the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions finale to watch the match together.

“He said to us, ‘That’s going to be you some day,’” said senior setter Jimmy Vega. “We all thought he was nuts, but he was serious. So we started thinking that maybe it could be us.”

Sure enough, the Blue Tide took the leap from being a good volleyball team to a great one.

They first won more matches than any team in Harrison history. Then they won a New Jersey Interscholastic League divisional crown. Then they won the Hudson County Tournament for the first time a year ago and won it again this year.

The Blue Tide rolled to heights in volleyball that no one could imagine. A year ago, they won their first-ever NJSIAA state sectional title and headed to the state’s Final Four.

This year, it was more of the same, only the Blue Tide managed to defeat East Brunswick in straight sets to advance to the overall state championship, the Tournament of Champions finale against Southern Regional last Thursday.

The Blue Tide just didn’t have one more victory in them and they lost, 25-21, 25-21, in the T of C title game at South Brunswick High School.

“It’s a mixed bag of emotions,” Landy said. “There’s the spirit of accomplishment for the whole team to get as far as they did, but we’re disappointed that we could get the four seasons a state championship. But we got beat by a really good team. I knew it was going to be a tough one.”

The two teams met three times during the regular season. The Blue Tide, who finished the season with a brilliant 37-5 record, won the first meeting, then Southern won the last two, especially the big one that counted most.

“We made too many mistakes,” Landy said. “We never got more than a few points ahead. They got up by eight in the second set, then we ran six points, but it just wasn’t enough. Once you lose that first set, it’s tough to overcome. Talk about being right there.”

Vega believed that the Blue Tide had a shot.

“We went there thinking we had a chance,” Vega said. “It came down to the team who made the fewer errors. We made too many errors.”

Vega said that he was trying to focus on the positive since suffering the loss.

“I’m very proud of my teammates,” said Vega, who had 21 assists in the setback. “We did a lot for the program and got a lot of things accomplished that never happened before. We have to look at winning the league, the county, the state sectional. All those things never happened before we got there. We had a successful season, but we just didn’t come out with the last win.”

Vega said that the season came with a ton of due diligence.

“We put in a lot of hard work,” said Vega, who is headed to New Jersey City University to play in the fall. “All of us play club (volleyball), so that helps a lot.”

Landy recalled his four seniors, a group that includes Vega and the greatest player in the history of Harrison volleyball.

Piotr Namiotko ended his Harrison career with more than 1,000 kills, one of just 20 people in New Jersey volleyball history to reach the historic plateau. Namiotko had 15 kills in the title match.

“I never saw anyone play like the way Piotr did this year,” Landy said. “He’s just an amazing player who got better. He was dominant and I can’t wait to see him dominate on the next level.”

“Piotr is absolutely incredible,” Vega said. “He can do anything. He gets the whole team hyped. He’s just incredible.”

Landy praised Vega.

“He’s been our go-to guy for three years,” Landy said. “We depend so much on Jimmy.”

Landy also sang the praises of his other two seniors.

“Frank Contreras is a great kid with amazing talent,” Landy said. “Gerson Pachas is our utility player. He serves the ball well and digs well and did a little bit of hitting. All four of the seniors are going to be missed. It’s tough losing them.”

“I can’t believe Coach said that three years ago about us playing in the final and it actually happened,” Vega said. “It’s amazing.”

Landy said that the coaching staff will get things organized for next season.

“I still think we’re going to be competitive,” Landy said. “It’s going to be tough with the talent we lose, but we’ll start next week with open gyms. We’ll see if other kids want to buy in. We have the open gyms with the hope of getting more kids into it. We’re ready to do the extra work to improve. We have a nice group of juniors. It’s a good place to turn.”

Landy is certain that his team will be competitive once again.

“We are going to build around the juniors we have back,” Landy said. “It’s going to be tough to maintain, but I think we put ourselves on the map this season. We got people to get excited about Harrison volleyball.”

That they most certainly did.

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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.”