January 10, 2020 – By NJP

Sofia Cuello enters her senior campaign for the Hackettstown Tigers with a quiet sense of confidence and an optomistic view on the strength of her volleyball team. She had a blistering campaign as a junior for a Tiger team that finished 22-7 and went deep into the the state playoff grid before being eliminated by eventul sectional champ Demarest.

Cuello was a dominate middle blasting 106 kills and putting up a team leading 37 blocks. Her 5’10” frame and excellent mobility around the net set her up for success. The former basketball player picked up several skills that have aided her development on the volleyball court.

Sofia has excellent jumping abilities and a swing stroke that creates a high level of velocity on her kills. She has excellent timing and solid anticipation on the block. Her time at Xtreme has served her well as she has converted her basketball skills into solid middle expertise at the net.

Hackettstown lost a ton of talented players to graduation but are always ready to regroup with a solid roster of players waiting in the wings. With Sofia at middle, senior Ashley Carkuff at outside, and eight other returning varsity players, we expect Hackettstown to again be favored to win the Colonial Division of the NJAC.

Sofia will make a great addition to a college program. Cuello is a strong student with solid academics and is setting her goals high for her college choice. She is still weighing her options and has aspirations to be an oncologist. Paging Doctor Cuello?

Here is our interview with Ms. Cuello…

Tell us a bit about yourself, Sofia?

I go to Hackettstown High School and I live in Hackettstown. I’ll be graduating this year in the Summer of 2021. Aside from sports, academics has always been a significant part of my life and I pride myself in maintaining a high GPA and being an A average student.  

My immediate family consists of my mom, dad, older brother, and I can’t forget about our two dogs, Bernie and Charlie. We enjoy traveling, seeing Broadway shows,  and going skiing/ snowboarding as a family. 

I’ve been involved in athletics my entire life, as I played soccer and softball when I was in grade school, I was a cheerleader until the eighth grade, I did about eight years of gymnastics, basketball up until my Junior year of high school, and I started competitive volleyball in high school. As for my family, my dad played basketball growing up and my brother played soccer throughout high school at HHS. 

Basketball was my main sport for a very long time, as I played on a travel team in eighth grade and I made the Varsity team my Freshman year. I’d trained very long and hard to become a skilled athlete in the sport and my entire family supported me, but when I joined volleyball everything changed. My mom was definitely happier that I was moving away from a contact sport, but it still came as a shock to everyone in my family, both immediate and extended. Nevertheless, I was still met with the same endless support from all my friends and family, and I truly thank them for having my back as I’ve become a volleyball player. 

How long have you played volleyball and what inspired you to take up volleyball initially?

I was first introduced to volleyball in the eighth grade, when my middle school started a volleyball club. Basketball had been my main sport all my life, but the club seemed like a fun thing to do with my friends, so I decided to join. There’s obviously no way to compare a middle school club to high school volleyball, but I quickly became obsessed with the sport. I watched dozens of online videos and learned the game as best as I could, all so I could eventually try out for the highschool team. 

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What are your metrics/details? Height, vertical, position, club team, etc. What’s your favorite position to play?

I am 5’10, a middle blocker, and I’ve been playing at Xtreme Volleyball Academy since 2019. My favorite position has to be middle blocker, since it’s the first I ever played and I’ve been actively developing my skills in this position. I enjoy being up at the net and being an intimidating force. 

Tell us about your Tiger teammates. Who do you expect will be this year’s standout and up and coming players?

I have to give a shoutout to my friend and teammate Ashley Carkhuff. She’s an extremely strong attacker with incredible talent, I can’t wait to see her excel in her volleyball career both in highschool and college. As for underclassmen, I know we’ve got many girls training in the off season and I’m so excited to see how we’ll play come March. 

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You are a solid talent at middle with over 100 kills and almost 40 blocks as a junior. What are your goals for the high school Spring session?

I want to improve as much as I possibly can to help my team come out on top. I want to show that I am a strong and skilled volleyball player through my stats this year, I really want to end my high school career with a bang.   

The Tigers lose a considerable amount of talent to graduation. How do you think this year’s team will fare?

I think with hard work and the guidance of our coach, we can be just as good as years past. We did lose a lot of our starting line up and I miss all those girls dearly, but it’s a new year and I know we can still achieve greatness altogether. 

Tell us about your basketball experience and how it helped your volleyball game?

Basketball has helped me with my athleticism and competitiveness in volleyball. Obviously basketball is much more physical than volleyball, so I have to thank my old sport for getting me in shape to withstand the long rallies of volleyball. The same goes for the mental side of volleyball, since in both sports you can never give up and must keep playing until the end, be it a buzzer or when the ball falls on the court. I don’t think I’d be the volleyball athlete I am today without my history in basketball. 

Who inspires you?

Definitely my teammates. I love seeing my friends excel in volleyball and it always pushes me to work harder. I think we’re all our biggest supporters to one another, we all just want to see eachother do our best and succeed.  

NJP considers you as one of the top players in the state. Do you plan on playing volleyball in college and if so, which schools are you considering?

I’d love to play in college since volleyball has become such an integral part of my life. I have yet to settle on a school, I’m still searching for a school that has a perfect blend of rigorous academics and a competitive team. Even if I can’t play on an official team in college, I plan on joining a club team or even starting one wherever I decide to go.  

What do you plan to study in college or what is your career path?

I plan to major in Biology with a pre-med track. My career goal is to become a doctor with a focus in oncology. 

Do you have a favorite quote?

My favorite quote is “I want to see what happens if I don’t give up.” I’ve applied this to all parts of my life, from school to volleyball to my personal life. It’s what motivates me to persevere and never give up, even when it feels impossible to go on. 

What are your favorite volleyball videos that you watch?

I enjoy watching highlight videos from pro men and womens teams on Youtube. The way they play is absolutely incredible and always gets me excited to be on a court. I watched dozens of videos from Volleyball World and Power Volleyball on Youtube during quarantine, though it had a bit of a negative effect since it just made me miss the season more. 

Who is your support group?

My parents are hands down my biggest supporters, and I have to thank them for the long drives and late nights of taking me to games and picking me up from practice. Love them so much! I’d also have to say my teams are my support group, as no matter how we are outside of the game, we always manage to come together and bring one another up when on the court. It’s one of the things I love about volleyball, how so many different people can join together under a common goal: to do your best and win. 

How are you and your family dealing with current world situation with COVID-19? How did the postponement of the Fall high school season effect your high school team?

I consider my family to be one of the lucky ones throughout the COVID-19 situation. We’ve definitely gone through some rough times, as I can assume many other families have this year as well, but I know we’re going to be alright and can persevere through even the hardest of times. 

The postponement of the Fall highschool season has been rough as well. At the start of it all, the most frustrating part was just the confusion and uncertainty we were all in, especially since we didn’t know if we were even going to have a season. I’ve been in touch with much of my high school team and we all miss it and can’t wait to get back come March, even if it’s completely different. We really just miss seeing one another and being together, and I know at least some semblance of normalcy will help us all. 

What are your other hobbies or interests?

Outside of school and athletics, I’m a very creative person. I love art and reading, which are the two main ways I spend my time. With art, I not only enjoy creating my own via painting and digital drawings, but analyzing art and animation is something I’ve always been interested in as well. I’ve also recently become very interested in computer science, as I am currently studying computer hardware and I plan on learning code. 

Is there a teacher or coach who really helped you along the way that you would like to recognize here?

I have to thank my high school coach Jeannie Tagliareni. My Freshman year when I first started volleyball, I literally had no prior experience other than the videos I studied and a short training camp at the highschool. I went into tryouts with only my attitude and perseverance, and it paid off with her giving me a chance on JV that same year. Now volleyball has become such an important part of my life, I love every aspect of the game and I’m always excited to get on a court. Thank you so much Coach Tags for seeing my potential and introducing me to this amazing game.

I also need to thank Xtreme Volleyball Academy, especially my coaches Cindy and Allison. When I joined Xtreme my Junior year, all I had going for me was my athleticism and little bit of volleyball knowledge from high school. Xtreme helped me perfect my skills and learn the game inside and out, making me a smarter and stronger volleyball player overall. I’m so excited for what the club season has in store this year and I know with my team and the guidance of Coach Allison, we can win.

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