Nutley boys volleyball looks to build upon early success

In just its second year as a varsity program, Nutley’s boys volleyball turned quite a few heads with a 20-5 record that included wins in the Essex County and state tournaments.

Now comes the difficult part for the Raiders – becoming a program that consistently finds itself among the best in Essex County.

That’s the challenge that Nutley will face as it will face unprecedented outside expectations while replacing multiple key starters from a year ago.

“These guys really do want to be one of those powerhouse schools, but we also are very aware that we are still a program in its infancy to a degree in year three,” head coach Kevin Reilly said. “I think the thing that we’re working through right now is we graduated so many talented players that we’re retooling now to prove that we can find that consistency that through graduating talent, we bring up a new crop of talent and we are that consistent program.”

Helping ease the transition for Nutley is that it returns both outside hitters from last season in three-year starters Gavin Warburton and Ilhan Ilhan.

Warburton, a 6-foot-1 junior, was one of the county’s breakout performers a year ago with 214 kills.

“I think his skill level since his freshman year reflected that of an upperclassman and have watched his game grow as his leadership has grown,” said Reilly. “I think he’s really starting to feel that confidence that he can be a player that can control a match.”

Ilhan, a senior, enters his third season as captain and is coming off a solid year himself with 84 kills, while being a strong passer and defender.

“He’s been a captain since he was a sophomore. He’s a voice that we look to constantly on the court,” Reilly said. “He is everything you could hope a captain would embody and display for a program.”

Another returning starter is junior Shane Castellanos, who shifts over from the middle to opposite hitter. It’s a move that should further bolster the Raiders’ offense and overall production for Castellanos, who had 62 kills and 19 blocks last year.

“He could be an outside (hitter), a right side (hitter). He has incredible hands so he could set for us in a pinch,” said Reilly. “We’ve pushed out to the right side in hopes of creating a well-balanced offense.”

Castellanos’ move outside and the graduation of Alex Tramontana has resulted in a pair of new starters in the middle Filling that void will be a pair of seniors, Kaan Aydin and Saman Hashemi.

Another new face is a setter where freshman Evan Petrov has emerged as the starter and will be one to watch for the next four years. While Petrov enters with the unenviable task of replacing Joseph Duca, his maturity and  6-foot-1 height will bring a new dimension to the lineup.

“He can really distribute the ball across the net. And with his height he is a huge asset defensively,” Reilly said. “He’s really looking like someone who’s played with these guys for more than just two weeks. There’s a level of confidence in his game.”

Another freshman set to make an early impact is Lucas Samaloff who is currently competing with senior Finlay Miruelo for the libero spot. Both Samaloff and Miruelo are sure to see plenty of time with the other set to serve as a defensive specialist when called upon as well.

Coming off the bench, senior Aerell Bitalac is a guy who Reilly termed “a swiss-army knife,” who will see time at multiple positions.

Three other underclassmen set to see meaningful time off the bench include sophomore middle James Colarusso and a pair of freshmen in John Sarango and Noah Tan.

Nutley’s defense of its Super Essex Conference – Colonial Division title began on Monday, April 1 at home against Newark Tech. The Raiders then travel to Eagle Academy of Newark on Wednesday before an anticipated independent game on Thursday at Belleville.

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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 (, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)