For many years, there seemed to be annual rituals in Secaucus come the first weeks of November. The leaves on the trees would start to fall. The temperatures would start to dip. American flags flew to honor the veterans. And the town’s high school volleyball team would collect yet another state championship.
Seventeen times in a span of two decades, the Secaucus High School girls’ volleyball team won an NJSIAA state championship, either in Group II or mostly in Group I. No other New Jersey high school enjoyed such success. No other school in the Garden State even came close.
In fact, only one school in the entire country, a place called Stafford High School in Arizona, could lay claim to owning more volleyball state championship trophies than Secaucus.
It was an impressive array of hardware that was hard to even fathom, much less try to comprehend.
Plain and simple, it became a habit. If you played volleyball at Secaucus, you ended the year with a state championship. With former coach Maria Nolan calling the shots, the state championship parade was so totally commonplace.
But Nolan stepped down after the Patriots won the 2001 state championship, turning the program over to her former player and assistant coach Sheila Ulrich Rivera.
There was some rebuilding to do when Rivera took over. The championship parade seemed to stop.
However, there were some talented youngsters waiting in the wings for their shot at continuing the winning tradition.
Kristen Bronowich was barely a fifth grader when her older sister Jen was a standout volleyball performer at Secaucus, winning three state titles in her career.
“I always wanted to do what my sister did in high school,” the younger Bronowich said. “I always wanted that chance.”
Cory Roesing also had winning in her family. Her three aunts all won state championships as players at Secaucus – and one of them just happens to be the current head coach.
“I watched all of them win,” Roesing said. “I knew they all had that experience of being a state champion. I wanted nothing more than to have that same feeling.”
Rivera wanted the same thing, not just for her niece, but for all of the players.
“It’s so not about me,” Rivera said. “I wanted it for the kids. I wanted all the girls to experience what I did as a player. There’s no better feeling in the world.”
So a year ago, led by the two kids who knew a lot about the Secaucus tradition because of their family ties, Secaucus added another NJSIAA trophy to the already cluttered case outside the gymnasium. Roesing, an All-State performer, and Bronowich, both of whom have been best of friends since practically infancy, weaved their magic, along with a handful of seniors, and brought the Patriots back to state prominence.
However, it got better. The upstart Patriots went on to the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions and managed to get all the way to the title game, the first Group I school to reach the T of C finale in any sport since 1989. The Patriots even knocked off the state’s No. 1 team, Pascack Valley, along the way. They came only a handful of points from capturing the overall state crown, falling just three points shy of Paramus. Needless to say, it was a year to remember.
So when the 2006 season started, the expectations were higher. The Patriots weren’t going to sneak up on anyone. They were no longer the upstart Patriots. They were the heavily favored Patriots, just like they were during the tradition-filled years.
“The expectations were real high,” Roesing said. “Last year was different, because it was new to us. We wanted to experience that feeling again.”
“From the first practice this year, the expectations were higher,” Bronowich said. “Sometimes, we felt the pressure, but I think we all knew what we had to do.”
Fellow senior Larissa Impreveduto wanted to get a taste of all the excitement. She was a cheerleader, then a member of the junior varsity last year. This was her last chance to get in on the championship excitement.
“When you’re expected to win, it does put a lot more pressure on you,” Impreveduto said. “I remember all those other Secaucus teams winning and I always looked up to them. I said, ‘Wow, I wonder what it would be like to win one like they all did.’ Since I was a senior, this was my last chance.”
The Patriots rolled through the regular season without a scratch, not losing a single match and only dropping a few games. They were state-ranked throughout the season and entered this year’s Group I tournament as the No. 2 team in New Jersey.
“Someone asked me if there were pressures with being undefeated,” Rivera said. “I always felt that once the state tournament began, it’s like a blank slate, because then, one loss and you’re out. When you’re undefeated, there’s someone out there who wants to give you the first loss.”
However, no one came close to hitting the Patriots with that first setback. Ridgefield Park, North Arlington and Bogota tried in the first three rounds of the Group I tournament, but to no avail.
The Patriots’ last obstacle was against Midland Park for the state crown Saturday at William Paterson University. The Patriots were very loose and somewhat focused.
“It was more than just a jacket and a ring,” Roesing said. “This is my senior year. We had to win. It was going to mean more, because it’s my senior year. I wanted to go out with a bang. There were some people who didn’t think we’d do well this year, because we lost so many seniors from last year. I felt like I had to be a leader this year. I had to step up and lead this team.”
Roesing continued what has truly been a remarkable and dream-like high school career. She made all the right moves, collecting 12 kills and three blocks, leading the Patriots to yet another Group I state title, winning easily in straight games, 25-13, 25-12, making the grand total of 19 state championship trophies.
For Roesing and Bronowich, the last 15 months have been nothing short of marvelous. They won the state title last year in volleyball, followed by BCSL National league championships in basketball and softball. Now, another state volleyball crown.
“I can’t ask for anything more,” Roesing said. “I think of that every day, how great the last year or so has been. I used to think of what it was like here and said, ‘That must have been pretty nice.’ Now, to think I’ve been part of all that. It’s amazing.”
“It was an amazing feeling to watch last year,” Impreveduto said. “Now, it’s even more amazing to be a part of it.”
And part of the history and tradition. Back-to-back state champs. Just like old times.
The Patriots were moving on to the T of C again, somehow earning the No. 4 seed and facing Roselle Catholic in the first round. It’s almost as if the people who make the seeds forgot what Secaucus did last year. After all, the Patriots are the No. 2-ranked team in the state and they’re the fourth seed in the T of C? What gives there?
“I don’t think they’re expecting anything from us,” Bronowich said. “They still look at us as being the little Group I school. We’re just going to go in and keep playing our hardest. We’ll see what happens.”
“I just hope they can do it,” Rivera said. “The kids all look to each other to do well. No one can do it unless they all work together. I want them to play well. If they play hard and play their best, then they can walk off the court proud and people will recognize them for the good team we are.”
The recognition is there. It’s now national. Stafford of Arizona can feel the Patriots coming after that national record.