In 2009, Fernando Colon took over the girls’ volleyball program at Hudson Catholic High School. There wasn’t a problem in having an easy transition, because there was no such thing as a girls’ volleyball program at the school before Colon’s arrival. He was it.
“Seven years ago, we started the program,” Colon said. “We figured that within some time, we would be able to compete.”
It’s apparent that time has come.
The Hawks are soaring right now, as evidenced by their 23-1 record, winners of the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League regular season championship and headed into the county tournament. They are currently ranked No. 5 in the state.
“I didn’t think we would arrive this quickly,” Colon said. “Especially with our schedule, I never thought it. We beat [Northern Valley] Demarest, Bridgewater-Raritan and Union Catholic. All three are in the state’s top 10.”
Demarest was No. 8 at the time the Hawks defeated them. Bridgewater-Raritan was No. 9 and Union Catholic was No. 10. Colon was like one of those sharpshooters on the boardwalk along the Jersey shore, picking one off after another.
The only blemish against the Hawks’ record this season was a three-set setback at the hands of perennial state power Immaculate Heart Academy, coached by Hudson County volleyball legend Maria Nolan, formerly the longtime coach at Secaucus.
Hudson Catholic made inroads last season as the winners of the Hudson County tournament title, defeating Secaucus in the finale. The Hawks eventually lost to IHA in the NJSIAA Non-Public A sectional title game.
But this season was different in Colon’s eyes, especially after the Hawks fared well at a tournament in Orlando earlier this season.
“We got to play some good teams from Florida and Texas,” Colon said. “Those states are known for their volleyball. It got us ready for the regular season and we were able to win our first 14 matches before facing IHA.”
Colon said that the Hawks also fared well at the annually tough Super Six round robin tourney at St. Joseph (Metuchen).
“We won all of our matches that day,” Colon said. “That’s when I knew we had a special team.”
The team also won without starting middle hitter Leah Sieckendick, who suffered a gruesome knee injury before the Super Six.
Alex Mujica has emerged as a team leader.
“She put a lot of work in over the summer,” Colon said of the sophomore. “When Leah went down [at middle hitter], Alex stepped right in and performed nicely.”
Junior Alanis Alvarado is one of the team’s outside hitters.
“She’s strong at the net,” Colon said. “She’s been our go-to guy. She’s an all-around good player.”
Junior Andrea Lombeyda is another outside hitter.
“She has a good all-around game,” Colon said. “She’s the second option in our offense. She can hit the ball strong. She’s also good as a defender. We have two solid players on the outside.”
Junior Rose Vega is the team’s libero or defensive specialist. It takes a special kind of player to be a committed libero with no chance of glory or scoring statistics.
“In my mind, Rose is one of the best liberos in the state,” Colon said. “She plays a very sold defense, especially in the tough matches. She plays very smart.”
Sophomore Milan Spellman has moved up from the Hawks’ junior varsity program to become a contributor on the varsity this season.
“She put in a lot of work and turned into a very good player,” Colon said.
Sophomore Laylana Lee Chow is the team’s setter and was just recently ranked among the top 25 players in the state.
The team is balanced with junior Jillian Ward, a three-year starter who also is a fantastic softball player, senior Nautica Smith, who is a standout in track and field, and freshman Lauryn Hansford, who plays setter when Chow needs a break.
“Lauren had a great performance against IHA,” Colon said. “She’s very athletic and a strong server.”
Put it all together and you have the makings of a state-ranked program.
But 23-1? No one saw that coming. It was seven years in the making.
“It really is remarkable,” Colon said. “I thought it would take some time. We got off to a good start and just kept going.”
And Colon is hopeful that the success keeps going through the county tournament and into the upcoming state tourney.
“That’s our goal every year,” Colon said.
Only this year, the goal is a little more achievable.
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog, with a tribute to Jersey City resident Tim Camp, the late great sports information director at St. Peter’s College and later NJIT who died recently, at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com