For 53 weeks the thought of getting back to and winning a Hudson County championship has been at the forefront of Guilherme Queiroz’s mind.
With the images of that loss in last year’s title game still fresh in their memories, this senior-ladden Harrison boys volleyball team can now put those painful memories away and replace them with one of jubilation.
On Saturday, the Blue Tide captured its third Hudson County title and first since 2016 when it defeated rival Kearny 25-21, 25-19, at Hudson County Prep in Jersey City.
Harrison lost to Kearny in the final a year ago and has since served as the catalyst for everything the Blue Tide have done this season.
“Since last year when we lost that (county final), it just changed the whole mentality,” said Queiroz, a senior outside hitter. “Our goal was to win the county and from that, to move up and up. “Coming here, we felt the nostalgia from last year with them, but at the same time we already beat them (last week), we’ve been here so we know what to do, we have a plan and we executed it and we did it. Now we’re county champs!”
Queiroz had the match’s clinching point when he hit a Jose De La Cruz set over the net and to the right, landing beyond the reach of a Kardinal defender for the kill.
“I couldn’t let the emotions get to me yet. I had to finish it,” Queiroz said. “We had a plan, I had a plan to finish it, we knew what to run with Jose. So as soon as I saw the ball coming to him, I knew it was going to be a point because it was coming to me and I was going to hit it.”
Queiroz and fellow senior opposite hitter Adrian Vivanco finished with 10 kills apiece. Senior outside hitter Adrian Jimenez added seven kills and De La Cruz, another senior, dished out 26 assists.
“It’s a great senior group, it’s a great group of guys,” Harrison head coach Nick Landy said. “We had unfinished business from last year and that’s all we were thinking about. They worked really hard for this in the offseason and it’s just unbelievable.”
Perhaps a little too amped up, Harrison (25-2) opened the game with three consecutive faults to give the Kardinals (14-6) an early lead in the first set. The Blue took the lead following a De La Cruz kill and two in a row from Queiroz, but couldn’t pull away against a resilient Kearny group in a first set where the two teams were tied on nine different occasions.
“It’s always a tight game with Kearny,” said Queiroz. “When it’s about the rivalry, it’s always one point there, one point here. One point there, one point here. It’s amazing, honestly.”
In the second set, Harrison once again overcame an early deficit, before tying it at 10-10 on a Queiroz kill then took the lead for good with consecutive Anthony Narvaez aces. It wasn’t until later on when the Blue TIde pulled away, scoring five consecutive points to make it 24-16, a stretch, which featured kills from Jimenez and Luiz Silva.
In defeat, Kearny got five kills from Yuri Dos Santos and four apiece by Gabriele Ferreira and Angel Cortes. Adrian Moran added 16 sassists for a Kardinals squad that overcame injuries and a midseason coaching change to make it back to the final for the third year in a row.
“They really brought it together as a team and they really showed what they can do together,” said Vicky Zicopoulos, who along with Tracy Sigma, took over in mid-April. “I think the boys have grown tremendously, they’ve shown resilience, my captains stepped up and showed true leadership and they really came together as a squad. It’s not the outcome that we wanted today, or any coach would want, but they did an excellent job and I’m super-proud of them.”
Both programs now turn their attention to the state tournament, which was seeded on Monday, after publication deadline, and set to begin on Thursday.
Kearny, ranked No. 14 in the state by NJ.com, is projected to be the fifth seed in North Jersey, Group 3. Harrison, ranked No. 4 in the state, is the projected top seed in North Jersey, Group 1.
With the NJSIAA’s change in state tournament format, now breaking teams up by school size in addition to geography, Landy knows Harrison is in prime position to capture a state championship.
For the Blue Tide, it would be the final goal of a season, which has seen them achieve all of its other missions thus far.
“This is our first year in Group 1 so we have a tremendous chance to go out and win states,” Landy said. “They set team goals and one of the goals was to win the conference, the second goal was to win this and the third was to win the states and we’re setting up to get the job done.”
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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.)