When Nick Landy and Anthony Sabia first started building up the Harrison boys volleyball program into one of the top programs in the state, there weren’t many options for their players to play organized volleyball during the summer, especially compared to their counterparts on the girls side.
“When I was coaching the girls, Lyndhurst was running something (for the girls) that I guess was like a summer league, but they didn’t keep standings so it was more like summer scrimmages,” Sabia, the Blue Tide’s longtime assistant and former head girls coach, said. “When they weren’t able to run it anymore, we were like, ‘we should try and run it.’ We have the air conditioned building and the two gyms. And because I coached on the boys side too, we were like, ‘why don’t we try and see if we can run a boys league?’
“We do the best we can to try and stay competitive with everyone around us. We have the athletes, we have the interest so we just try to give our players as many opportunities as possible to put their hands on a volleyball and work together.”
Fast forward to today and the Harrison Recreation Summer Boys Volleyball League provides a truly unique opportunity for area teams. Now in its fifth season, the league is believed to be one of just two high school summer leagues for boys volleyball in the state and the only one in North Jersey.
The boys’ and girls’ leagues both play on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Harrison High School’s two gymnasiums. Games played in the main gym are live streamed on YouTube.
“When we first did it, the girls always had something going on. There were a few different summer leagues run for girls volleyball,” Landy said. “We put it out there and we get the usual people (locally) like Kearny and Bayonne and St. Peter’s and Hudson Catholic (among others). It’s a lot of time for us, but it works out.”
“At first it was just us, Kearny, Bayonne and Memorial. That was it,” Sabia said. “I think once teams started to realize what we were doing, it started to grow.”
This summer, nine teams are in the summer league, four of them — Kearny, Harrison, Bayonne and Union — finished in the final NJ.com Top 20 rankings this spring. In addition, perennial state power St. Peter’s Prep, local HCIAL rivals Hudson Catholic and North Bergen, and Essex County’s West Caldwell Tech and Payne Tech round out the field.
The rest of the state’s volleyball community has taken notice of the hard work by Landy and Sabia with the league. Last year, St. Joseph of Metuchen, one of the state’s premier programs, came up from Middlesex County and won the league. Before the summer, other coaches from some of the state’s top teams also inquired about competing in the league in the future.
“We definitely had some teams reach out that weren’t on our radar so the word is getting out,” Sabia said. “I think Nick and I try really hard to put a good product out whether it’s our team, our program in general. We try to do the best we can with running a summer league and I think teams realize we do a good job.”
While the Harrison boys’ league remains the only one of its kind, interest in the sport is growing locally. This spring, Nutley had its inaugural season and Lyndhurst continues to establish a solid foundation for a program now nine years old.
Now long established, Bloomfield and Belleville are two of the better programs in Essex County, as are Harrison and Kearny in Hudson.
“I think our area has kids who know volleyball because they played it in their country,” Landy said. “It’s a tough sport to play, but it’s easy to get into. It’s starting to catch on and I don’t understand why more schools don’t have boys’ volleyball.”
While smaller in scale, Harrison still runs a girls’ summer league as well, a six-team program featuring Harrison, Kearny, Abundant Life out of Nutley, McNair Academic from Jersey City and both Payne Tech and Newark Tech.
Regular season play for both leagues began on July 12 and continues through Aug. 4. The playoffs for the girls’ league is on Tuesday, Aug. 9, with the boys playoffs’ start Aug. 11.
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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.)