For NJCU volleyball, it’s all about Kearny

The New Jersey City University men’s volleyball team features six players who hail from Kearny. Front row, from left, are Mahmoud Serour and Leandro Perez. Back row, from left, are Nate Aguilar, Brandon DaSilva, Aaron Mantilla and Leo Ferrari. Jim Hague photo

Carlo Edra is a veteran college and professional volleyball coach who has enjoyed two stints as the head coach at nearby New Jersey City University, where he played volleyball from 2004 through 2006, then turned his attention toward coaching the sport.

Even though Edra just returned to coach the Gothic Knights two years ago, he is blessed with a roster that is packed with players who hail from Kearny.

Incredibly, almost unthinkably, the Gothic Knights’ roster features a total of six players who went to Kearny High School.

“It’s absolutely unheard of,” Edra said. “We recently had a Kearny against the rest of the team scrimmage and the Kearny kids almost won. It was really a close match.”

The Gothic Knights are also enjoying an incredible season, posting a 13-6 record including two wins over Kean and a win over Ramapo, the first win over the Roadrunners since 2006.

One would think that it would be easy for a coach to have so many players from the same high school program. But Edra said that it was a bit of a struggle to get all the former Kardinals on the same page together.

“It was like a crash course of playing the brand of volleyball that I wanted to see played,” Edra said. “At first, we experienced a little bit of growing pains. It was a huge struggle at first. But then the Kearny guys were able to get a hold of things easier.”

Edra said that it was a big help that the players all played club volleyball together during the offseason, playing for Sideout Sports based in Fairfield.

“That experience really helped them,” Edra said. “Once you start getting experienced players like that, then the program gets better.”

The infiltration of Kearny products at NJCU began with senior setters Leo Ferrari and Aaron Mantilla.

Incredibly, the two are best of friends who recently had to deal with an event that could have altered their relationship.

Ferrari was always a libero or an outside hitter at Kearny, but approached Edra with a plan when Mantilla was out of commission.

“He said to me, ‘You know I can set if you need me,’” Edra said of Ferrari. “He ran the offense and really did a better job. He evolved as our setter and he basically took Aaron’s spot. Leo can play multiple positions, but has been better now as our setter.”

“I’m sure he understands,” Ferrari said of his increased playing time over his best friend. “He’s been completely supportive. It definitely hasn’t hurt our friendship. I think it really helps that we’re all pretty close and sometimes carpool to school together. It’s really been a lot of fun and very competitive.”

Edra likes what Mantilla brings as a reserve.

“Every time we’ve called upon him, he’s responded,” Edra said of Mantilla. “He does everything that’s asked of him. He’s really embraced his role.”

Junior middle blocker Brandon DaSilva is another Kearny product.

“He’s a monster,” Edra said of DaSilva. “He’s one of the most driven people I know. For a while there, he was the No. 1 middle blocker in the country. We named him as a captain last year when he was a sophomore. He leads by example.”

DaSilva believes that the Kearny connection has helped the Gothic Knights tremendously.

“For the most part, we bring about that feeling of family,” DaSilva said. “There’s a sense of comfortability. We all stick together in everything. It’s the family aspect of sports.”

DaSilva gives credit to Edra.

“It’s all Carlo,” DaSilva said. “He really has elevated our volleyball knowledge. I think we all have some volleyball talent, but Carlo is the one who put it all together. I think we still have a lot of untapped volleyball talent.”

Mahmoud Serour is a sophomore outside hitter and libero.

“He’s like our Swiss Army knife,” Edra said of Serour. “He can play three positions at a high level. He had been concentrating at outside hitter, but had to start for us at libero. Mahmoud is a big reason why we’re having such a good season.”

Nate Aguilar is a freshman middle blocker with a ton of potential.

“It took Nate a little while to get to know the system,” Edra said. “But since he has, he’s been playing at a high level. He’s a guy who literally texts me every night and asks questions. He wants to be very good.”

The sixth Kearny player at NJCU is sophomore Leandro Perez, who is working on getting quality playing time.

“During one game, we needed a serving specialist and Leandro fit right in,” Edra said. “He’s never let go of that spot. He’s like our sniper. We put him in to serve and he’s able to put the serve wherever he wants to.”

Incredibly, the NJCU-Kearny connection won’t end this season. There is one current member of the Kearny volleyball team who has committed to NJCU and another expressing interest.

“We had others from Kearny who tried out and didn’t make it,” Edra said. “It’s safe to say that Kearny guys are finding themselves at home at NJCU. They have to keep the tradition going and follow in the footsteps of the others. I tell them all the time that NJCU is the Kearny alumni team. I would not be surprised if we get more from Kearny.”

“I find it really cool,” DaSilva said. “Six people on the team from my hometown? That’s gratifying. A few years ago, no one knew anything about Kearny volleyball. No one ever played in college. Now, we have six on this team. I know whenever I look at my teammates, I know we have it, because we’re from Kearny.”

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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.”