WEST ORANGE, NJ – The West Orange High School varsity girls’ volleyball team enjoyed a terrific season in 2017, winning the co-championship of the Super Essex Conference-Liberty Division with Bloomfield and finishing with a 14-9 overall record. The Mountaineers won a SEC division title for the second year in a row. In 2016, they won the SEC-Colonial Division crown.
This season, the Mountaineers hope to have another great season as they move up to the SEC-American Division, which is the top division of the conference.
Head coach Jackie Cruz’s team will face some of the best teams in the state, such as Verona (defending Essex County champions and Group 1 State champions), Bloomfield, Mount St. Dominic, Livingston, Montclair, and Caldwell. “All of these programs have a history of being successful with highly competitive coaches, so to be in the same division as them feels great,
Cruz said. “Our players are ready to compete. They know they are facing highly competitive teams this year and they are ready for the challenge. They are focused and motivated.”
The Mountaineers will open the season Sept. 6 at home against Orange.
WOHS must replace six graduated seniors, who were all big contributors to the team’s past success, said Cruz. “Those six seniors started our success at West Orange and set the standards high for volleyball future players in our town,” she said. “We had a lot of talent and height. This year we are a bit young. However, it does not mean they cannot get the job done. The younger players enjoyed watching the seniors play and learned a lot from them. Now, ‘the younger players’ are the ones on the big stage. Our hitters can do more than just hit. Our players are much faster and agile this year. Since we have a tougher schedule, we had to add more to the table. I mentioned to the team, basic volleyball is not going to help us at the level that we are competing in now; we have to do more! Therefore, I have implemented a faster, more technical game play this year. I think the girls have a better understanding of the game, so adding advanced techniques will help with our success. There is such a different chemistry this year. They understand the intensity of the game and are willing to go the extra mile to achieve our team and individual goals. I try to remind the players, you should always set goals for yourself. Goals can be achieved through handwork and confidence. However, just because you did not meet the goal, does not mean you were unsuccessful; there’s always a lesson that can be learned through the experience and journey, and that is how you become successful.
“Since we started coaching together, Coach (Caniece) Williams and I have been training our players to feel comfortable at every position, because in high school volleyball you never know what position/situation you are going to be in for the team. Three years ago when we first took over West Orange Girls’ Volleyball, we were in the American Division going against elite teams. We knew we had to instill a competitive culture and change the dynamics of the program. We dropped two divisions, but that seemed to be a blessing in disguise because that’s when our success began. We were able to capture two consecutive SEC titles, which now brings us to where we are, back up top. Coach Williams does a great job motivating our girls to DO better and to BE better in everything. I know I can always count on her to get the job done. She’s a great coach and person! I have learned a lot from her throughout the years and multiple seasons we’ve coached together (Volleyball and Basketball) and I really appreciate everything she as done.”
Williams is the WOHS head girls’ basketball coach, who led the team to its first-ever state sectional title this past winter.
The girls’ volleyball team has five seniors. Saniyiah Richardson and Racheal Ezomo have been playing varsity since their freshmen year. “I believe their positive leadership, courage, perseverance and determination off the court is what helps them lead on the court, which is why they were named captain for this year’s team. I know they will guide all of our players, from seniors to freshmen, towards the right path.”
Racheal said, “This year we’re looking forward to going further than we have ever gone in a season. With our goal being stated, we hope to dominate our opponents and bring home our first ever state title. Lots of teams feel like we will not be able to do it because of all the height we lost when we graduated our seniors last season. But with our team bond stronger than ever, and our determination and perseverance, I know we will be able to.”
The other three seniors, who were part of the SEC championship team, are Kaija Jones, Hannah Winter, and Jazmin Chavez. They also have ready leadership qualities and help bring the team together, said Cruz.
“This year we had the highest number of players play club volleyball, Cruz added. “West Orange Volleyball had a very busy and productive summer. Our athletes attended summer training workouts with our strength and conditioning coaches, Coach Grant and Coach Cheg; participated in the Bloomfield Summer League, where we placed second; and attended Penn State University Volleyball Camp to compete against different schools from all over the U.S. We even had a great team bonding, Zumba session with one of the best teachers in West Orange, Ms. Melissa Sande.
“To watch our players learn to love the game, grow and become great young ladies, is the best part about coaching. Every single one of these girls bring something to the table and they are ready to bring it. The positive energy and chemistry is at an all time high this year.
Cruz said the team has an all- around competitive junior class this year. They include hitters Ogechi Nwobu, Gabriella Uribe, Indigo Jackson, Onye Bosco and Setter Lindsay Levine. “These juniors will be a great addition to our seniors this year. We are extremely happy to have Ogechi Nwobu back on the court. Last year, she had a season-ending injury. Hence, she was not able to compete at all last season. Once she was fully recovered, she played club volleyball for SideOut Sports and attended training sessions throughout the off season. With her height (6-feet-1), athleticism, and determination to come back stronger than ever, I know she will carry our team on both sides of the court. We also have two sophomores who are young but great addition to our roster, Kayla Sanchez and Tracey Idleris. Although they are young, they have the capability of showing their talents on the court at some point this year.”
Sept. 6, Orange, 4 p.m.
Sept. 7, Nutley, 4 p.m.
Sept. 8, at Hackensack tournament, 8 a.m.
Sept. 11, at Bloomfield, 4 p.m.
Sept. 13, Livingston, 4 p.m.
Sept. 15, Home quad vs. East Side, Passaic, Snyder, 10 a.m.
Sept. 17, Montclair, 4 p.m.
Sept. 18, Passaic County Tech, 4 p.m.
Sept. 20, Caldwell, 4 p.m.
Sept. 22, at East Orange Campus, 10 a.m.
Sept. 24, at Verona, 4 p.m.
Sept. 26, at Mount St. Dominic, 4 p.m.
Sept. 27, at Garfield, 4:30 p.m.
Sept. 29, at William Paterson University tournament, 8 a.m.
Oct. 2, Bloomfield, 4 p.m.
Oct. 4, at Livingston, 4 p.m.
Oct. 5, at Leonia, 4:15 p.m.
Oct. 6, at Montclair, 10 a.m.
Oct. 8, Montclair Kimberley Academy, 5:30 p.m.
Oct. 10, at Caldwell, 4 p.m.
Oct. 12, Secaucus, 4:30 p.m.
Oct. 16, Verona, 4 p.m.
Oct. 18, Mount St. Dominic Academy, 4 p.m.
Oct. 24, Paramus Catholic, 7 p.m.
Oct. 25, at Clifton, 4 p.m.
Photos by Jerry Simon