Local volleyball teams team up to raise money to fight cancer

A year ago, the administration at Harrison High School, in particular athletic director Kim McDonough Huaranga, wanted each team at the school to take on a service project.

Anthony Sabia, one of the hardest working coaches around, heads the girls’ volleyball program at Harrison.

“We wanted to do something with cancer awareness,” Sabia said.

So Sabia found out about the Side Out Foundation, with volleyball teams from all over the nation putting their time and effort into raising money for Stage 4 cancer research and awareness.

“It was a no-brainer for me,” Sabia said. “I went to the clinic to find out more about their research and treatment.”

Sabia then reached out to good friend Joe Cioffi, the head girls’ volleyball coach at North Arlington.

“He felt like he was interested in doing something for Side Out as well,” Sabia said of his friend. “We were friends in high school. Joe went to Nutley and I went to Harrison.  We hung out together. I never thought this could happen. It just happened that way that we became coaches at rival schools. We’re not in the same conference anymore, but maybe we could make it an annual thing.”

It has been a trying first season for Cioffi with the Vikings, mostly caused by the flood in the gym.

“We were on the road for the first 19 games of the season,” Cioffi said. “They had to change the gym floor. So we were on the road for all of September. We were on the bus three days a week, coming home late. Those were long hours, going to school, playing volleyball. That’s a long day for everyone.”

So it didn’t matter where the Vikings were playing. They were the road team already.

The two friends managed to make the contest between their two teams into the Side Out Foundation Cancer Awareness night. The two teams raised money to donate to the cause in a variety of ways.

The Harrison girls work pink socks and donated the process of sock sales, pink T-shirt sales, pink ribbons sale and a bake sale. With everything they did, they were able to donate $1,200 to the Side Out Foundation.

“They did a pretty good job,” Sabia said.

And they won the match by scores of 25-15 and 25-17.

“We’re pushing to be one of the top teams,” said Sabia, whose team holds a 12-8 record. “We lost a couple of close matches. We lost to Secaucus twice in close matches. We’re trying to get there to be one of the best. We’re making believers out of people.”

One of the top players is senior captain and outside hitter Maria Barreto, whom Sabia thinks could play in college.

“She’s our most consistent player with the most kills, the most aces, the most service points,” Sabia said. “She does everything for us.”

Junior Jailyn Montilla would be one of the top Blue Tide players, but she injured her ankle and has been out of action.

“She’s a strong scorer,” Sabia said. “When she’s on, she’s the hardest hitter we have on the court.”

Madison Lucas is a junior setter. She’s also the daughter of all-time Harrison great Ray Lucas, the former NFL quarterback now a TV analyst with SNY. “Now that Jailyn is injured, Madison runs our offense. She had a nice match against North Bergen and Secaucus. She’s tall and can hit in the front row.”

Chelsea Ramos is a junior setter.

“She’s very versatile,” Sabia said. “She can be a right side hitter, then plays on the outside. She’s very athletic and plays a lot of positions.”

Junior Alyssa DaSilvera is the libero.

“She’s very steady back there,” Sabia said. “She passes well and she’s very active. She’s very quick and gets around on the court.”

Junior Jacqueline Mulrenan is the middle hitter.

“She gets up in the air high,” Sabia said. “She blocks well. She’s always working on her game because she wants to improve.”

Junior Julia Farkas is another who wants to get better.

“I don’t think she’s played her best volleyball yet,” Farkas said.

Kierrah Lucas is a junior right side hitter who is improving.

The Blue Tide received the No. 7 seed in the Hudson County Tournament that begins this week.

“We can get to the final,” Sabia said. “I was hoping we could win a big match before the state tournament. I feel it’s coming. We’re right there. We haven’t gotten the big one yet. The girls keep pushing themselves because they know what the boys did. They want that for themselves.”

The Harrison boys’ volleyball team reached the Tournament of Champions final last spring.

Cioffi is just happy to get his team on its home floor.

“After those long hours on the bus, it’s good to know we can come home now,” Cioffi said.

Senior Nicole DeLaCruz is the Vikings’ outside hitter.

“She plays hard and goes for the ball a lot to keep it alive,” Cioffi said. “She has improved tremendously since she was a freshman. She’s diving all over the floor and does what needs to get done.”

Senior Madison Maramba is another key player.

“She’s our back row specialist,” Cioffi said. “This is her first year seeing varsity playing time. She’s our captain. She always has a smile on her face and she’s never down.”

Senior Bryana Delgado is a back row specialist and also a team captain.

“She’s been with me since her freshman year and she’s a phenomenal team leader,” Cioffi said. “With her, our back row plays phenomenally.”

Senior Genny Dwyer is another front row specialist who puts rallies together.

“She helped us come from behind to beat St. Mary’s,” Cioffi said.

Senior Priscilla Castro is a setter who “works hard and is aggressive at the net.” Senior Meghavi Pandya is another front row/outside hitter who has improved.

“She’s made great adjustment on the court,” Cioffi said.

Juniors Caroline Mazur, Julia Lukasiewicz and Emily Karras add depth and stability to the team.

The Vikings combined forces with the Blue Tide on one event, but ran their own Side Out Foundation fundraisers against St. Mary’s and New Milford, where they sold ribbons and had a cake sale to raise $800 on their own.

“I think it’s very important that the community realizes that these girls aren’t just athletes,” Cioffi said. “People don’t realize how hard it is, how much hard work it takes to put it together. Our kids love playing together and being on the road so long brought them together. We had girls who didn’t have varsity experience. I wish I had another year with them.”

And the girls on both teams need to be recognized for their efforts, going far and beyond.

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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.”