ELMWOOD PARK – Quietly, Elmwood Park has forged one of the best seasons in the history of its girls volleyball program.
It’s been relatively quiet because the Group 1 Crusaders had to play almost their entire season on the road while they waited for their gym to be renovated.
All those bus rides and hostile crowds may be the reason 10th-seeded Elmwood Park has advanced to the state tournament quarterfinals for the first time in at least 20 years and is the lowest seed still alive from North Jersey.
“Their focus had to be right off the bus, right into the gym, and I think it made them stronger mentally to play away almost every game,” said Elke Voigt, in her seventh season as Crusaders coach.
The Crusaders earned the ride to New Jersey’s premier small-school program with a win Friday at No. 7 Leonia, 25-9, 25-21. It marked the first time in more than two decades – perhaps ever — that the program won two state games in the same season.
Elmwood Park dominated early in the first set en route to becoming one of only four double-digit seeds to advance to the quarterfinals in one of the five group volleyball tournaments. Several members of the board of education attended.
“Since we’ve been away so many times, we’re used to the long bus rides,” senior hitter Vikki Stec said prior to Monday’s practice. “And we’re used to getting our heads in the game before it’s even started.”
Senior setter Juliana Romero has amassed more than 1,100 career assists and one of her strengths is keeping the Crusaders’ heads in the game. Early in last week’s first-round home sweep over No. 23 Wallington, Romero held the nervous Crusaders together.
“Juliana, she runs the offense, and she’s a competitor, and she gets the girls focused,” Voigt said. “She’s always talking to the other girls, and I’ve always said, she’s my quarterback, my point guard, as the setter.”
Romero and the 5-foot-10 Stec, who has more than 1,000 career kills, are among a handful of seniors in the rotation. They are joined by fellow 12th graders Natalie Geroski, Mercy Rivera, and Sylvia Mocarski.
“This class, since they’ve been freshmen, have been my best four years of coaching,” said Voigt, who has coached volleyball for most of the past 20 years, including in Hudson County. She added, “It’s just the highlight of my day going to coach these kids.”
This has been a season of highlights for Elmwood Park. The Crusaders reached 20 victories by winning nine of their last 11 matches. They tied for second in the NJIC Colonial Division behind Glen Rock. And the back-to-back tournament wins are something special.
“Ever since I started playing volleyball in middle school,” Romero said, “it’s been a goal of mine for people to know Elmwood Park, and not just consider us any old team.”
Quietly, Elmwood Park has accomplished that goal.