Nutley’s Warburton makes his mark with dual milestones

Last week, before Thursday’s game against North Arlington, Gavin Warburton was honored as the first Nutley boys volleyball player to record 500 kills when he set the mark one day earlier at Newark Central. Less than an hour after the ceremony, he added to the collection of firsts when he became the program’s first to get 200 career digs.

Such milestones might not have seemed possible three years ago, mainly due to Nutley not having boys varsity volleyball until his freshman year.

“My dad (Robert) was behind most of it. He did a lot of pushing with Joe Piro, our athletic director, and I’m really grateful for that,” said Warburton. “When I found out they were having a team, it made my entire year.”

Despite its lack of history or a real feeder program, the Raiders have gone .500 or better all three seasons with their standout outside hitter being a big reason for that success.

Warburton’s milestone setting two days make him The Observer Athlete of the Week.

From the first day of the program, Warburton, who started playing when he was in fourth grade, stood out.

“When he stepped in the gym as a freshman for our first tryouts he didn’t look like a freshman from a talent perspective,” head coach Kevin Reilly said. “He knew what he was capable of and he played to the level he was capable of. It’s been really fun to watch him develop his skillset on a daily, monthly and season long basis.”

As a freshman, Warburton finished second on the team in kills (106) and digs (64) during the team’s 10-10 inaugural season. Last year both he and the program blossomed as he posted 214 kills for a Nutley team that went 20-5 and won the Super Essex Conference – Colonial Division title.

This season, with a younger, less experienced roster, Nutley is 14-7 with Warburton leading the team with 191 kills to go with 107 digs and 39 aces.

According to Warburton and Reilly, the biggest difference this season has been in his mental approach to the game and volleyball IQ.

A wrist injury prevented Warburton from playing club volleyball for a part of the offseason so instead, after being cleared to play, he had a private lesson with longtime college coach Harris Boyes that gave him a new perspective of the game.

“He just gave me a different mindset of looking at my game,” said Warburton. “Instead of getting better just by doing drills and practicing, I learned how to analyze my own play and watch other people play to implement it into my own game.”

“He now has this mental piece where he knows (everything around him),” Reilly said. “Maybe when he was a freshman, he wasn’t sure that he could swing through a block. Now he knows when he has to roll one or tip one and he makes the defense work in ways that he knows (the defense) doesn’t want to.

“It’s been really special to watch his game and his leadership mature.”

As Warburton’s game has grown, he’s also seen the sport as a whole grow in Nutley. A majority of the roster is set to return next season, having him believe that next year has the potential to be a special one.

So while Warburton is proud to be the first to reach these accomplishments, he’s confident that others will join him in what currently is a club of one.

“I’m stoked that I’m the first, but I’m also expecting these other guys to do it,” Warburton said. “And I’m going to be very proud of them when they do.”

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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.)