Last week marked the beginning of tryouts for most fall sports and as the Lyndhurst girls volleyball began practice last Monday, they did so with plenty of momentum and confidence already built up.
Just four days earlier the Golden Bears had wrapped up a flawless run in the Harrison Summer League. Not only did Lyndhurst go 16-0 in the league, defeating Hudson Catholic in the title game, they did it without dropping a single set all summer.
“We finished off pretty well last season and we were very young last season as well. We had a lot of sophomore starters so I definitely wanted to pick right up where we left off last year,” Lyndhurst head coach Steve Vahalla said. “I think the Harrison Summer League was definitely a perfect opportunity to showcase where we want to be and where I can see where we’re leaning towards.
“I wouldn’t say I was surprised (with how we played), but I’m very, very happy though with how we turned the corner this summer.”
With five starters back from last year’s 14-12 team Vahalla and Lyndhurst had plenty of reasons for optimism even before its summer league performance.
Among the returners are both outside hitters, senior Allanis Rodriguez and junior Yasemin Ugurlu.
The 5-foot-9 Ugurlu, who qualified for the Outdoor Meet of Champions in the Triple Jump this past spring, led the team in kills last fall with 97 and is poised to emerge as one of North Jersey’s better hitters.
Said Vahalla, “Yasemin is definitely going to be our top hitter, one of the top hitters in the league and maybe even the county.”
The 5-foot-7 Rodriguez showed considerable growth throughout her junior season, her first playing volleyball and Vahalla believes she’ll be that much better after posting 93 kills and a team-best 201 digs last year.
In the middle, 5-foot-11 junior Asya Akar begins her third year as a starter after recording 90 kills and 128 digs to go with a team leading 65 blocks and 48 aces.
Between Akar, Ugurlu and 5-foot-11 middle blocker Sofia Hechavarria, the Golden Bears should have one of the tallest front lines in the NJIC.
“I would definitely say this is the tallest front line that I have,” Valhalla said. “A few years ago when we made the Group 1 sectional final I had Maryanne Ijeh and she was about 6-2, but across the line, this is definitely the tallest line I’ve had.”
Hechavarria, a sophomore, saw some varsity time last year with 13 blocks.Also in the middle, rotating with Hechavarria will be junior Gianna DeCoro, who also saw a decent amount of varsity minutes last year with 17 kills and 22 blocks.
Another returning starter for Lyndhurst is 5-foot-7 senior Bryanna Pando, who had 42 kills and 41 blocks.
Back at setter is junior returning starter Kiana Marizan. The 5-foot-5 Marizan had 222 assists a year ago.
“Midway through last season she won the setter job and stepped right in,” said Vahalla..” She has done a great job ever since.”
Junior Selen Akman (5-foot-6) takes over as the starting libero, after seeing some time on the back line last year.
Lyndhurst will also count upon senior Faith Arroyo and Jaylen Ayala to provide depth on the backline as is Emilia Kot as an outside or opposite hitter.
The Golden Bears begin the regular season on Sept. 7 at Dwight-Englewood. The next five matches are all set to be at home, a slate that includes perennial small school powers Secaucus and Rutherford.
Last year, Lyndhurst started the season slow, only to win 12 of its final 17 matches. This season, Valhalla is hopeful that they’ll ride this momentum and not only earn a high seed in the state tournament, but also qualify and potentially win a match in the prestigious Bergen County Tournament.
If they do, this past summer is sure to be a big reason.
“The summer league definitely helped in building confidence, building teamwork and building that momentum,” Valhalla said. “Even watching this first week (or practice), they’re leaps and bounds ahead of where they were last year.”
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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.)