When Nick Landy took over the head coaching responsibilities of the boys’ volleyball program at Harrison High School 11 years ago, he never could have dreamed there would come a day where he would be celebrating his 200th coaching victory.
“No, never, not 200,” Landy said. “I’m still shocked with the 100.”
But that’s what took place last Wednesday, when the Blue Tide defeated Union City in the quarterfinals of the Hudson County Volleyball Tournament. The victory gave Landy 200 coaching victories in his career.
The milestone was celebrated with big balloons to spell out the 200, with players and other coaches participating after the win.
“It was a good day,” Landy said. “It’s really something for someone like me to be speechless. I’m really humbled by it. It’s not a solo accomplishment. I have had great players and good coaches like Anthony Sabia working with me. I remember the other guys like (former Harrison girls’ basketball coach and athletic director) Jack Rodgers getting these honors and Pat Longo in Bayonne getting to 300. It’s just awesome to be part of that group.”
Landy remembered how he went from being an assistant football coach (under the tutelage of his brother Mike, the current Kearny councilman) to becoming the head volleyball coach.
“It pretty much just fell into my lap,” Landy said. “I was the assistant coach in volleyball for two years and then the head coaching position opened up. I took the job and was lucky to have Anthony (Sabia) as my assistant. It’s always good to have a great assistant.”
Landy was sure he could turn around what was a moribund program.
“I felt like we could have some of the kids that they have in the soccer program to play volleyball,” Landy said. “My goal was when I took over was to build a program. We got support from the schools and were able to build a middle school program. We had some open gyms for kids to play at the (Harrison) Rec Center. Having volleyball in the middle school really helped. Longevity also helps. I’ve been around 11 years now. But I think we created a culture of winning.”
The Blue Tide has managed to win the Hudson County Tournament twice and won the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2 championship twice, eventually going to the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions finale once. It’s a remarkable feat for the Harrison coaching staff, headed by Landy and Sabia.
Sabia made a poster with the 200 milestone, listing the names of all the players that graced the Blue Tide volleyball program over the years.
“It also listed all of the wins,” Landy said of Sabia’s creation. “I don’t know how he did it. It really was an amazing thing, listing all the players and the victories. I didn’t think he could top the 100, but he did.”
Although the Blue Tide fell to St. Peter’s Prep in the county tourney semifinals the next day, there is a lot to be proud of.
The young Blue Tide has come of age in recent weeks, improving their record to 19-7 as they head to the state tournament this week to face Snyder of Jersey City in the opening round. The Blue Tide drew the No. 2 seed in the North Jersey Section 2 bracket.
“We’re still very young,” Landy said. “We only have three seniors. The rest of the team are juniors and sophomores. I hate to say that we were rebuilding this year. I think we’re just finally coming together. We weren’t a cohesive unit early in the season. We hadn’t played a lot together. I think they had to find their way together. I was a little frustrated in the beginning of the season, but we’re getting there now.”
The team is led by sophomore outside hitter Ray Ugaz, who is a three-sport athlete, playing soccer and basketball at the school.
“He’s the most consistent player we have,” Landy said. “He hits the ball well and serves the ball well. If he doesn’t play really well, we don’t win.”
Fellow sophomore outside hitter Ulysses Rodrigues has also made strides this season.
“He’s a first-year player,” Landy said of Rodrigues. “He stepped into his role and has done a nice job. He’s a little raw, but he has a lot of natural ability.”
Rodrigues also comes to the volleyball team from the basketball squad.
Junior Kevin Molina is the Blue Tide’s middle hitter.
“He’s one of the two players we have that had prior varsity experience,” Landy said. “When he’s on, he’s on. He hits the ball well and blocks well.”
Junior Justin Cruz is another middle hitter.
“He’s been blocking the ball well,” Landy said of Cruz. “He’s not a really big kid, but he has good jumping ability.”
Junior Marcello Soares is the team’s opposite hitter.
“He can serve well,” Landy said. “He’s a lefty, so he gives us a little different dimension. He hits the ball with a little bit of a difference, a back spin.”
Senior Ricardo Perreira is the team’s defensive specialist.
“He’s the only senior who gets a lot of playing time,” Landy said. “He’s good in the back.”
Junior Sandro Barrantes is the team’s setter. He runs the show.
“He has nice hands,” Landy said of Barrantes. “He is one of the hardest working guys we’ve ever had. He’s running all over the court, making plays. He also serves well.”
Junior Tristan Crespo is the team’s libero, the most thankless position on the floor.
“He had some experience there last year,” Landy said of Crespo. “He’s come through for us and taken over that role.”
Landy didn’t take a lot of time savoring No. 200. He was worried about facing Prep in the semifinals a day later.
“I’m just thinking about tomorrow,” Landy said after the 200-win celebration. “I just went home and had some dinner.”
As low keyed as you can get, but it is truly remarkable that the Harrison volleyball program could get to a point where the coach would be celebrating 200 victories. Kudos to Landy and Sabia for the incredible milestone.
Harrison head boys’ volleyball coach Nick Landy (center) is honored as his Blue Tide defeated Union City in the quarterfinals of the Hudson County Tournament, giving Landy 200 wins for his career. Photo courtesy of Anthony Sabia
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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.”