Harrison summer volleyball leagues continue to grow in popularity

There’s no denying the growth in boys volleyball in New Jersey, and especially in this area, the last handful of years.

The annual Harrison Recreation Summer Boys and Girls Volleyball Leagues are proof of the rapid increase in popularity the sport is experiencing locally. Despite making the leagues bigger and longer than in past summers, the amount of requests to join the league outnumbered the available spots.

“This year we had to turn down I think three or four teams for the boys league and a couple of teams for the girls league as well,” said Sabia, the longtime assistant coach for the Blue Tide boys team and former Harrison girls head coach. “And that’s with having more teams in than we’ve ever had in the past because we have the other court added in the main gym of the high school. We have more courts, we have more teams and we still had to turn teams down so there’s definitely an interest in the area.”

This summer’s edition, the sixth they’ve hosted, features 10 boys and eight girls teams. Games are Tuesday and Thursday, with two games going on at the same time in the high school’s main gym with another in the auxiliary gym. Even with the main gym hosting two games at a time for the first time, each season was extended a week to accommodate the extra teams.

For Sabia, a 2004 graduate who played in the program’s infancy, the rise in popularity of volleyball, especially on the boys side is meaningful to him. All seven of The Observer area teams have boys volleyball now with Nutley adding it in 2022 and North Arlington this past spring. The 2023 season also saw the NJSIAA change the format of the state tournament, as it went to four groups for the first time due to the amount of schools who now have teams.

“It does mean a lot to me,” said Sabia. “All of these teams are adding volleyball now so it’s just great to see it everywhere, especially all of these boys teams popping up where they look at us as the veteran, old team now.”

On the court, Harrison’s boys team will be anything, but that as it graduates all, but one starter, defensive specialist Anthony Narvaez, from this spring’s 27-3 squad, which won the Hudson County Tournament and reached the North Jersey, Group 1 final.

For that reason, the experience of summer games together is all the more valuable this summer.

“It’s incredibly crucial for us. We’re going to be a very junior-heavy team heading into next spring. Most of them were part of our JV team last season,” Sabia said. I think it’s important for them to see the step up in the level of competition so they realize that stuff that kinda came easy to them on freshman and JV isn’t going to necessarily happen on varsity.”

Joining Harrison in the boys league is rival Kearny, who it has squared off with in the County final each of the last two years. Longtime Hudson County contenders Bayonne and St. Peter’s Prep are back as well as fellow HCIAL rivals Memorial, North Bergen and Hudson Catholic. Abundant Life of Nutley, Payne Tech and West Caldwell Tech round out the field.

On the girls side, locals Harrison, Kearny and Lyndhurst are joined by Abundant Life, Hudson Catholic, which has won six of the last seven Hudson County titles, Newark Tech, Payne Tech and West Caldwell Tech.

Regular season play began on July 11 and runs through August 10. The playoffs for the Boys League will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 15, starting at 5 p.m. with the Girls League playoffs taking place on Aug. 17, starting at 4 p.m.

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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.)