Harrison boys volleyball seeks greater consistency despite fast start

Standing from left, left, Assistant Coach Anthony Sabia, David Renderos, Frank Barrera, Aladdin DeLeon, Yusuf Mohamed, Luis Torres and Head Coach Nick Landy. Seated from left, Anthony Narvaez, Wagner Ribeiro, Brayan Andrade, Yamil Espinoza, Melvin Romero, Joel Rodriguez and Jeremy Rivera. Photo courtesy of Anthony Sabia

The 6-1 record might not indicate it, but the Harrison boys volleyball team is still trying to come together and become acclimated to varsity volleyball.

That’s because this is one of the least experienced groups that the Blue Tide have had under veteran head coach Nick Landy.

“We are young because we’re junior heavy, but it’s more of an inexperience issue,” Landy said. “We haven’t gotten ourselves playing together yet. There’s a couple of guys, because their newness to the varsity game, they’re having some issues with the speed of the game.

“We’re working every day and hopefully, we’re getting better.”

As part of that adjustment period, Harrison has yet to have anyone emerge as a go-to hitter in the first two weeks of the season. In its absence, the Blue Tide instead have had incredible balance on the offensive end with seven players recording between 10 and 33 kills so far.

Leading that group so far has been Yamil Espinoza. The junior outside hitter currently leads the team in kills (33), digs (52), service points (54) and aces (13).

“He’s not big at all, but he gets up there,” said Landy. “He does a great job for us.”

At the other outside hitter spot has been Anthony Narvaez (19 kills, 30 digs), the team’s lone senior starter. Narvaez is the only player who started on last year’s 27-3 team, but finds himself at a new position after being at libero a season ago.

Also in the mix at outside hitter is freshman Ryan Manini. Manini, who had seven kills in a three-set loss to Garfield, is believed to be the first freshman to play varsity for Harrison in more than a decade and has the tools to be an impact player in the future.

“He’s been a nice surprise and he can really hit the ball,” Landy said. “Once he gets his confidence up and he’s ready to go, I think he’s going to help us out a lot.”

Junior Frank Barrera, who saw spot time at middle blocker a season ago, has 25 kills and five blocks while also being one of the team’s top servers with 46 points and 10 aces.

“He’s got a lot of great ability,” said Landy of Barrera, who also plays soccer and swims at Harrison. “He just has to find his way and find his potential. But he’s one of the guys that I have a lot of confidence in.”

Fellow junior Alattim DeLeon (23 kills, seven blocks) has also seen extensive time in the middle with Yusuf Mohamed also carving out a role at the position.

At opposite hitter, David Renderos (28 kills) is another junior who has flashed potential early on.

“David’s a great athlete who just has to find his way,” Landy said. He does some good things. He just needs a little more consistency.”

Junior Wagner Ribeiro has also seen significant time at opposite and senior Luis Torres is also vying for a role.

Taking over at setter is the team’s lone captain, Jeremy Rivera. In addition to his 133 assists, Rivera, a junior, also has 10 kills and 33 service points.

Junior Brayan Andrale (33 digs) has been the primary libero with senior Melvin Romero also seeing extensive time there and as a defensive specialist. Joel Rodriguez could also see some time on the backline as well.

Harrison, which competed in the Livingston Tournament this past weekend, was set to host Lyndhurst on Monday, prior to this week’s deadline. This Friday is the much-anticipated annual showdown with arch-rival Kearny at home at 6:30 p.m. in a rematch of the last two Hudson County finals. The next morning, Harrison will host a 12-team tournament, which includes Lyndhurst, McNair, St. Peter’s Prep, Hudson Catholic and others.

While it hasn’t always been easy early on, Landy sees a team that has the potential to repeat as county champs and win a North Jersey, Group 1 title after falling in the final a year ago.

“We see glimpses, but we just need a little more consistency,” Landy said. “A lot of the mistakes are just mental. I keep telling them every day that I know they have the skill level, they just have to apply it and I think we’re going to be fine.”

Learn more about the writer ...

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.)