Three years ago, Julia McClure was full of nerves as she walked onto the court for Secaucus in her first Hudson County Girls Volleyball Tournament final.
On that day, McClure was one of four freshman on the court for the Patriots as they defeated Bayonne. Tonight, the now seasoned junior played a key role in her team’s 25-19, 25-14 victory over Union City at New Jersey City University, as the Patriots captured their fifth consecutive county title.
The win allowed McClure and the other juniors — Andie Lennon, Kendall Caruso and Katelyn Schlemm — who played that night in 2011 to hoist their third straight Hudson County Tournament trophy.
“Freshman year there were a lot of nerves because it was our first time, but now we just play volleyball and if you play hard enough to deserve it, you get it,” McClure said.
Acting as veterans, along with seniors Kelly Riebesell and Nancy Wraga, the quartet of juniors were major factor in the Patriots’ victory last night.
McClure had a monster night with 20 kills, none bigger than the two she slwammed when the Patriots trailed 11-10 in the first game of the match. After those points, Secaucus continued a rally that would see it score seven straight points on its way to a 25-19 finish.
Complementing McClure on offense, Caruso had another spectacular night, assisting on 25 of the Patriots’ points, while Schlemm added six kills.
Defensively, Lennon led the Patriots in digs, collecting 14 over the course of the night, as she laid out from side to side, keeping the ball in play as the Patriots separated from the Soaring Eagles.
Familiarity and the ability to read the court were critical aspects in the win, said Seacaus coach Sheila Rivera, who has watched this group grow together over the last three years.
“It’s like when you’re playing in a baseball game, you get used to what the person next to you is doing, what they take, what they don’t take, and now that they have been playing on the court for three years together, they’re able to read each other a lot better,” said Rivera, who won the first ever Hudson County Tournament as a junior at Secaucus back in the 1980s.
The second game did not provide as much drama as the first, but the Patriots still had to fight their way past the Soaring Eagles, who only trailed 16-12 before Secaucus scored nine of the game’s last 11 points. The final tally came on an ace by Riesbell, the Patriots’ captain.
The senior who coined the team’s 2013 motto, “Hustle, hit and never quit,” also credited the team’s cohesiveness as a reason for its success.
“It still takes a lot of hard work, but every year it gets a little bit easier because we just get used to playing with each other,” Riebesell said.
Although the loss cut Union City’s title hopes short, coach Mike Cerreta’s eyes lit up when he thought of the hunger and determination that the Soaring Eagles will have after giving Secaucus all it could handle.
“I think they played the best game of their season,” Cerreta said. “They laid it all out there and they went after them. Secaucus is the best team in this county for a reason and we went toe-to-toe with them.
“We’re going to use this game as a way to show that we are legit and as a way to build for next year. We’re a very young program and we expect to see Secaucus back here next year in this match.”
Secaucus (23-3): Julia McClure 20 kills, 13 digs; Katelyn Schlemm 6 kills; Kristina Ulrich 8 service points, 1 ace, 3 digs; Andie Lennon 14 digs, 5 service points; Alyson Toman 5 kills; Kelly Riebesell 3 service points, 1 ace, 2 kills; Nancy Wraga 8 digs, 6 assists; Kendall Caruso 25 assists, 9 digs; Megan Vazquez 2 digs.
Union City (20-7): Nicole Pittar 4 service points, 6 assists, 7 kills; Ayleen Pittar 1 assist, 7 kills, 2 digs; Jessica Billatoro 7 service points, 1 dig; Camila Davila 1 kill, 3 digs; Eileen Abramson 1 service point; Bethsy Cardenas 2 service points.