Kearny boys volleyball hits stride, returns to HCT semifinals


Kearny’s boys volleyball team, at times, has looked like a group that has the size, talent and depth to be one of the best in the state. Now, as tournament time has arrived, the Kardinals look to prove it on the court.

For Kearny, this past Friday was the first step towards that when it defeated an always strong Bayonne team, 25-13, 27-25 in the Hudson County Tournament quarterfinals.

The victory sends the Kardinals to the semifinals for the seventh-straight year. Kearny, seeded third, will play second-seeded Hudson Catholic on Wednesday for the right to play in its fourth consecutive final, which is set for Saturday at County Prep High School in Jersey City.

Top-seeded Harrison hosts North Bergen in the other semifinal.

“There’s a lot of high-level talent individually with these kids, but they need to work well together and play well,” said first-year Kearny head coach Aaron Mantilla, who played at Kearny and then NJCU. “When they realized that and they became a team, that’s when we started to play high level volleyball.

“I know that these guys always had the potential to play a high level of volleyball. They just need to want it.”

Senior outside hitter and co-captain William Mullins has led what has been a balanced offensive attack. Mullins, an All-State selection in 2022, who missed all of last year as he underwent treatment for leukemia, has a team-best 103 kills to go with 75 digs.

“I feel like William’s return has meant everything to this group and to the program,” Mantilla said. “The kid is the hardest worker on the team. He is always ready to play, he never complains, he never talks back. He’s a team player.

“He’s a leader on and off the court for us, and we wouldn’t be where we are this season if it weren’t for William.”

Yuri Dos Santos and Christopher DelRosario have shared the other outside hitter spot. Dos Santos, a senior, in particular has come on of late, highlighted by a season-best nine kills in the quarterfinals against Bayonne.

In the middle, 6-foot-4 junior Giuseppe Adami has had a strong season with 79 kills and 31 blocks in his second year as a starter.

“He’s been very good in his role on this team,” said Mantilla. “He’s a very strong hitter, a very good blocker, and a very good server.”

Junior Denzell Holloman, who leads the team in blocks with 37, adds to the size up front at 6-foot-3, while sophomore Caleb Baptista has also seen meaningful time at the position during the second half of the season.

Another first-year starter doing big things has been sophomore opposite Jonathan Petrillo, who has 79 kills, highlighted by an 11-kill, eight-block performance against Hudson Catholic on April 30.

Senior co-captain and wrestling star Josh Baeza has shifted over from the back line to starting setter this season and has 327 assists on the season. Despite standing just 5-foot-7, Baeza’s athleticism has allowed him to be more than a passer, getting 16 blocks and 14 kills.

“He’s been getting better every single day,” said Mantilla, who was a setter as a player. “He really wants this. He likes playing the sport at a high-level and is always looking to get better.”

Senior Caio Souza (92 digs) has emerged as Kearny’s libero with fellow senior Anthony Quezeda also seeing extensive time at libero and as a defensive specialist. Another senior, Joshua Gutierrez, has also seen time on the back line and has been one of the Kardinals’ top servers.

Jonathan Ortiz has also seen time at setter, while David Przybylski and Gadiel Casanova are also vying for in the Kearny lineup.

At 10-6, Kearny has won six of its last eight games and is currently 10th in the North Jersey, Group 3 power point standings. Before Wednesday’s semifinal, the Kardinals host Union City on Monday as it looks to avenge an earlier defeat to the Soaring Eagles while staying on top of the HCIAL American Division standings alongside with North Bergen.

“It’s been an up and down season and they’ve been playing at their best as of late,” said Mantilla. “I think we’re playing high level volleyball right now.

“They know what our job is and they know that the job is not 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 (, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)