It was just a week into the season when Kearny’s boys’ volleyball team was 1-2 and struggling to find its identity and on-court chemistry.
Eighteen matches and 37 days later, these Kardinals are able to call themselves champions.
One year after falling short in the title game and more than five weeks after its last loss, Kearny won its first-ever Hudson County boys volleyball championship, defeating rival Harrison, 25-16, 25-22, in the title game in front of a large and loud crowd at County Prep High School.
Kearny, ranked No. 8 in the state by NJ.com Top 20, has now won 18 consecutive matches since an April 7 loss to Harrison, a game which in hindsight, served as a turning point for the Kardinals.
Harrison, which fell to 17-6, was seeking a third county title after winning in 2015 and 2016.
“I’m so proud to call these guys my brothers,” said senior outside hitter Ethen Lugo. “In the beginning, we all doubted each other. We all doubted each other because we all played different ways, half of us played at different club (teams), so coming together as one means a lot. Getting this county trophy, especially with these guys, means a lot. We busted our tails every single day just to get our hands on this trophy.”
“It was a great wakeup call and motivational for us because we knew we weren’t the team that we wanted to be,” junior outside hitter William Mullins said. “So we kept working and now here we are.”
Mullins, who earlier in the week set the school’s single-season kills record, led the way with 15 kills, 18 digs and four blocks. With the second set on the line, the 6-foot-2 hitter took over, recording back-to-back kills to give the Kardinals a 24-22 lead. He then recorded the clinching point with a block.
“We’ve been very competitive, every year we’re competitive, but it feels nice to get that trophy in the big game,” Kearny coach Bill Mullins said. “We’re very proud and we’re honored that we got it.
“Harrison was a worthy opponent and the way they were coming back, who knows what would have happened if there was a third set.”
The second set, perhaps more than any other time this season, was evidence of how much Kearny has grown from those early season struggles.
Adrian Hernandez and Guillerhme Queiroz had two kills apiece as part of an 11-2 Harrison run which saw Kearny commit three consecutive errors and give the Blue Tide a 15-11 lead.
Harrison led 19-15 when Kearny got kills from Sebastian Glazewski and Matheus Mullins, followed by another Glazewski kill.
“Our coaches just told us to be calm, to play our game because we knew that if we remained calm and we took it one point at a time, that we could come back and win this in two sets,” William Mullins said. “I feel like we have a great team bond. We’re all unified, we play together, we pick each other up.”
“Harrison came back at us there and they were playing really, really well and we could have folded there, but we didn’t, we came back,” Coach Mullins said. “That’s what it’s about.
“They might have folded (earlier in the season) and that’s what you can’t do in this game. You gotta be patient, you gotta have composure, it’s so big to have that and you gotta play smart and we did that. We did that against a good team.”
William Mullins was a kid when his dad became Kearny head coach 12 years ago. During that time, he saw Kearny reach the final in 2014. Last year, a sophomore, he and several of his teammates were on the floor when the Kardinals lost a three-set heartbreaker to St. Peter’s Prep.
“It means so much,” the younger Mullins said. “I always came to all of the games with my dad coaching and I was telling myself that when I was here, we would win this. It was a team effort and it’s just great.”
Lugo had six kills and six digs, while Narvaez added 12 digs in the win. The 6-foot-5 Matheus Mullins had seven blocks and Christian Poncio dished out 22 assists.
Jimenez paced Harrison with seven kills and Queiroz added six with seven digs. Jose De La Cruz had 21 assists and eight digs, while Luis Cabrera added a team-high nine digs.
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)