SCOREBOARD Hudson Catholic becomes county volleyball queens

Hawks knock off six-time champ Secaucus to win first-ever girls’ title

When Fernando Colon took over the duties of becoming the first-ever girls’ volleyball coach at Hudson Catholic seven years ago, he literally had to start from scratch.
Never mind not having any players, considering that Hudson Catholic first started to admit girls into the school in 2009. But there was no hint of volleyball anything at the school.
“It was tough,” Colon said. “We had no lines on the floor for volleyball. Before every practice, my former assistant coach Jose Vasquez and I used to have to tape lines on the floor. We had to do that every day. It took about an hour before practice to put the tape down.”
And it wasn’t any athletic tape or something special. Colon took masking tape and put it on the floor, just so the fledgling team could learn how to play properly.
“It was one of the first things I had to do,” Colon said. “We had nothing.”
Colon also didn’t have a team.
“Any kid who tried out back then was on the team,” Colon said. “We really struggled for numbers. I tried to entice some of the girls from other sports to play volleyball.”
Despite the obvious obstacles, Colon saw some promise.
“We had a good first year,” Colon said. “We were above .500. We had a good athletic team. We even won a state playoff game.”
The Hawks did manage to win their first round NJSIAA state tournament team, then got paired against Immaculate Heart Academy, the state’s premier program, in the second round as a reward.
“The girls were just happy to be in a playoff game,” Colon said. “We laid down the foundation that first year. We made sure that we would always be in each game we played. We made sure that we were at least competitive. That was our motto over the years, to give each team we played a battle.”
As the years went on, the Hawks became more and more competitive.
“We played hard against good teams and each year we got better and better,” Colon said.
The Hawks won 10 games the first year, then 13, then 14. They became a player in the Hudson County Tournament, even advancing one year to the county tourney finale. The Hawks managed to win 20 matches every year over the last three years, establishing themselves as one of the top teams in the county.
“Girls who had already played volleyball before high school started to come here,” Colon said. “We started to get some really good players.”
One of those top players was Katria Stewart, who last year became the program’s first-ever NCAA Division I recruit when she signed on with the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.
Even though Stewart had graduated, Colon felt like he had a good nucleus coming back, especially two outside hitters who made their marks last year as freshmen.
“We really had a good group returning,” Colon said. “Jillian Ward and Andrea Lombeyda play two key positions. They play defense and they also hit. They were able to get good experience last year as freshmen and I knew that experience would pay off.”
Junior Nautica Smith also returned as the team’s libero or defensive specialist.
“Nautica is our most experienced player,” Colon said. “She started for us as a freshman and has been there ever since. She reads the game very well. She’s very smart and knows where the ball is at all the time.”
Freshman Loraine Lopez is the team’s imposing middle hitter. At 6-foot-3, Lopez is a fixture at the net.
“She plays good defense and blocks a lot,” Colon said. “She also hits the ball very hard.”
Freshman Kaylana Lee-Chow is the team’s setter.
“She wanted the responsibility of being the setter,” Colon said. “That made it easier for me. She’s very mature for a freshman and very poised. She also studies the game on her own, watching tapes of other matches.”
Senior Ashley Rivera, who is a standout softball player like Ward, is another solid middle hitter.
“She’s one of the most consistent players we have,” Colon said.
Senior Tiana Anton is another solid middle hitter who works well defensively. Senior Kaylarose Scott, senior Ashlee Rivera (another softball player), junior Leah Seicendick and sophomore Briana Espinosa are all key reserve players.
“Leah keeps getting better and better as the days go on,” Colon said. “Kaylarose is another big player in the middle of the court. Briana is a good defensive specialist. They all chip in.”
The Hawks managed to earn the top seed in this year’s Hudson County Tournament and last Saturday night at St. Peter’s University’s Yanitelli Center, they defeated perennial favorite Secaucus in three sets – 25-13, 13-25 and 25-15 – to win the program’s first-ever county title and the first for any girls’ team at the school.
Secaucus had won the previous six straight county tournament titles and had defeated Hudson Catholic in each of the last three years, so the Hawks enacted a bit of revenge on the county’s top volleyball program.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Colon said. “Our girls put in a lot of hard work. This was one of the goals that they wanted to reach. I think Secaucus raised the bar for Hudson County volleyball. Coach [Sheila] Rivera does a fantastic job with that program. Everyone knows that Secaucus is one of the best programs in the state. Just to beat a team like that is a great feeling and a great honor.”
Lee-Chow had an incredible final match, collecting 31 assists, nine service points, three service aces and two digs. Lombeyda had 10 digs, seven kills and seven service points. Smith had 11 digs and 12 service points. Lopez had 21 kills, four blocks, two digs and five services points, two of which went for aces. Ward had four assists and five digs. Needless to say, it was a total team effort.
Just think – a few years ago, the powers-that-be were looking to shut the doors of Hudson Catholic forever. Now, girls attend the school and now, a girls’ volleyball team at the school reigns supreme in the entire county.
“It’s the first girls’ county championship for the school, so that’s also an honor for us,” said Colon, whose younger brother, Noel, was a standout basketball player at North Bergen High School during his heyday and is now the head basketball coach at Harrison High School. “The girls really wanted that. That was the main goal and they accomplished it.”
For good measure, the Hawks defeated Villa Walsh in straight sets, 25-14, 27-25, to advance in the first round of the NJSIAA Non-Public state playoffs to improve to 26-4 on the season. It’s safe to say that the Hudson Catholic girls’ volleyball program has definitely arrived.
“It’s an honor for these girls to set a goal and then reach that accomplishment,” Colon said. “It’s their moment.”
It’s the coach’s moment as well – although the masking tape has long been discarded.

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