January 24, 2021 – By NJP
Senior Jalen Allen, a two year club player at Sideout Sports, will be a leader for a Hackensack club who returns 4 varsity players from the 2018-19 team. COVID squelched the hopes of what was probably the tallest high school volleyball team in NJ with 6 players over 6’3″ in 2020. They had high hopes of creating a winning season but the world had another plan.
Many of those players are on to college now, but Jalen stands ready to help lead his team to greatness. He may be the only club player on the squad, but we are sure that Hackensack will have a glut of players at tryouts and many new faces that will become part of this years Comet squad.
Almost all of the high school volleyball teams will be in the same situation making any pre-season predictions as accurate as a teenager spelling in a text message.
Jalen continues to improve his skill every time he hits the floor. He is a daunting figure at the net and uses his size and speed on the attack. He is an excellent blocker and has solid jumping ability. His defensivve skills have improved as well as he gets more repetitions passing and digging. Having Jalen and 6’7″ Beco Kioenovic on the net this spring will give the Comets a major advantage.
Allen is a respectful and talented player. He takes direction well, works hard, and understands the role of being a complete teammate. He will be a player to watch this Spring when we get the 2021 season underway. We wish him well.
Here is our interview with Jalen Allen…
Tell us a bit about yourself, Jalen?
I am Jalen Allen and I attend Hackensack High School in Hackensack, New Jersey. I currently live in Hackensack and I am graduating in the class of 2021. I live with my mother who works in education in Newark and my younger, ten-year old sister who attends Hackensack Middle School. My sister is currently active in swimming, basketball, and was previously active in soccer.
How long have you played volleyball and what inspired you to take up volleyball initially?
I was not even aware of Men’s volleyball initially. My first encounter was at the Open house tour at Hackensack High School when I was in eighth grade. Two players on the volleyball team came up to me and told me I should consider joining and how the program is a great way to develop myself. Fast forward, one of my closest friends and teammate Philip Wright urged me to join the volleyball team, especially after hearing that they were making a Freshman team.
Originally, I was going to join the Spring track team. I participated in track during 5th to 7th grade in Middle School and ran events such as the 200-meter dash, 400-meter race, 800-meter race, and long jump as a field event. Track was not my strong suit, if I am being honest, but the fact of being pushed outside of my comfort zone and trying different events was one of the most important things I took away from the experience.
Also, between 7th and 9th grade, I was a member of the Hackensack High School Marching Band. Many people do not consider marching band a sport but, I found it to definitely fall under the requirements of a high level of physical activity. I played the Baritone saxophone in 7th and 8th grade and then the tenor saxophone in 9th grade. Marching band was different from track as I was not just competing individually but as a part of a team. Marching band works as a competition-based sport and different bands perform a show to try to earn the highest scores in their group.
Overall, I decided that trying something new during freshman year of high school would not hurt. It did open a new image of confidence for me. Volleyball was not the same as track. Similar to marching band, I had to work with my team in order to win. Trusting my teammates and the components everyone has to do to win. I made the JV and Freshman team and ever since then I loved the sport. I attended camps every summer at Kean University and West Point up till junior year after that, and then eventually 2 years at club (including this year) at Side Out Sports.
What are your metrics/details? Height, vertical, position, club team, etc. What’s your favorite position to play?
I am 6’ 3” and I have a vertical of 10′ 3″. My current position is middle blocker/hitter which I have been playing since freshman year of High School. I play for SideOut Sports on the 18-1 team and my coaches are Jason Davila and his assistant coach Sydney Lore. I currently play the middle blocker position because I portray the stereotype of being tall (meaning over 6ft) however, my favorite position is opposite hitter. It may not be the lead attacker in the offensive strategy, but I act as the assistant to the outside hitter. The opposite hitter gets set more than the middle which leaves a lot more possible ways to play the game with not just hitting and tipping, but strategizing. Also, the outside has the privilege to be able to play defense more often than the middle does. Overall, I am very useful in the front row and am able to utilize the court to the advantage of my teammates and myself.
Tell us about your Comet teammates. Who do you expect will be this year’s standout and up and coming players?
The Comet volleyball team is like a family. We can always depend on each other when needed and are always willing to motivate and hype each other up during practices and games. We all come from different backgrounds and particular social groups, so us joining together is also a way of learning more about one another. In terms of players standing out, I would say our middle blocker Beco Kioenovic. Beco has shown tremendous improvement since sophomore year when I first met him. He is always willing to work on hitting and blocking during practice. Beco is also a quick learner and I think that shows on the court during practice and games.
Philip Wright is our amazing setter who’s been setting since freshman year. He is very accurate when setting and I expect a great season from him and our attackers. I can’t forget about or libero Jerry Chablay who I have been playing with since freshman year also. Jerry has shown tremendous ball awareness, and steady improvement on the court since becoming libero. He is very active and engaging on the court and an overall jokester that the team needs. I expect him to have solid passes and cover in the back row throughout the season.
What is your expectation for this years Comet squad with you and Beco Kioenovic as the twin towers up front?
Beco Kioenovic is fairly new to the Hackensack volleyball family. He started my sophomore year but ever since his first week I have seen the high amount of work he put in to be a middle blocker for the team. Beco is a hard worker and is very dedicated to improving himself which are the best qualities and traits one can ask for. I would have to say my expectation for this year comets squad is to get every block possible. With Beco and I being “twin towers”, we will be able to dominate the court with our height and help the backrow out with as many blocks as possible. I expect Beco and I to also have great communication with Beco playing middle and me most likely playing outside. We will be in sync with each other and be able to dominate the net with as many hitting and tipping techniques as possible. We expect to intimidate the other teams with the Comet hungry energy we radiate. Most importantly, for us to utilize communication for different plays such as an X play. I think that will be our goal for this upcoming season. Not only getting the X play down but several other combination plays as well.
Hackensack was primed for a breakout season in 2020 with glut of senior talent and solid supporting juniors. You had 7 players between 6’3 and 6’6” and appeared to have the talent to shake up the Big North. How did the cancellation of the Spring high school season effect your team?
I have to admit, I was very prepared and eager to play with the 2020 class. Not only was our front line full of powerful hitters, but we were assisted with the luxury of a dominating set of backrow players. The cancellation of our spring season brought devastation and regret to our team. With a lot of restrictions coming into place and COVID-19 taking control across the U.S., we realized we were not the only people that were effected by this plague. The cancellation did not separate our team but brought us closer together. We all focused on each other’s mental health and checking in on each other during the pandemic. Some of us also scheduled workout routines so we can remain active during the pandemic. Yes, we did not meet for a period of time and we could not play with the 2020 class as we planned, but the pandemic helped us gel as a team overall.
NJP considers you as one of the top players in the state. Do you plan on playing in College? (If so, which ones are you looking at?)
I am still deciding whether or not I want to play volleyball in college, I most importantly want to attend a college that focuses on my career oriented goals on becoming a journalist. However, even if the college I go to does not have an official volleyball team I am always open with bringing my talents to club volleyball. Although, despite being undecided about playing in College, I am looking at colleges such as Bard College, Vassar College, and Suny New Paltz. Suny New Paltz with head coach Radu Petrus I would say I appreciate and value the most because of their resources and message of integrity that they have for their athletes and also the various resources each of the college provides.
Tell us about your club volleyball experience at SideOut Sports.
I tried out for the club the August before my junior year of high school. I was nervous of course but overall I wanted that outside hitter experience that will lead me to be a better player. My previous teammates who graduated, Daniel and James, did club and loved it so I decided trying it out wouldn’t hurt. Initially, I did not make the team, but a week after results came out, I was asked to be on the 17-1 team with coach Jeff Gogates. Coach Jeff prepared me and shaped me into a different player for the middle blocker position. At first he referenced me as a “lost puppy” before the season and towards the end a “puppy who found a home”. Playing club, I made friends with teammates outside of my town and social circle and was able to play at 1 day and overnight tournaments numerous times.
Tournaments really gave me an idea of what high level volleyball competition was like and the overall experience of playing against teams I did not see on a regular basis. Sideout Sports developed me into a different and better player my first year there. Now for my senior year, playing at Sideouts Sports I have improved as a player, working on coach Jason’s 18-1 team. Even with the challenges of Covid-19, I still find myself improving and learning new skills/drills at Sideout that improves my overall performance as a player.
Who inspires you?
I always found that being self-sufficient is not easy to achieve since everyone needs help every now and then. Personally, my grandfather, Philip Allen, is the man that inspires me often to be the best version of myself. Being strong willed, patient, and active, is everything my grandfather taught me to be. He has demonstrated this to me my entire life. His motivation and guidance through many of my day-today problems is so appreciated. With my grandfather’s wisdom, it is very encouraging with him being there to help with any challenge I encounter.
Who is your support group?
My biggest supporter is my mother. Of course, a mothers support is the best support. When attending my volleyball tournaments, she always encourages me to “focus” and she is the first one to shout from the stands and gave me words of encouragement when playing. She never criticizes or make me feel small about my ability but helps me to keep moving forward through the toughest times of playing. My mother is a genuine person who provided me great support while playing. I have great gratitude toward her words and her presence at my tournaments.
What is your favorite inspirational video or music that you like to watch or listen to before games?
“Break My Stride” by Matthew Wilder. The song is about not letting things get to you and being able to brush them off. Everytime I feel down or feel like I need motivation, I refer back to that song and it gives me the encouragement I need to keep going in a game. If I make a mistake, I know that it should not affect my overall performance.
What do you plan to study in college or what is your career path?
I plan on studying Journalism as my major and black studies as my minor in college. Writing is one of my passions in life because it brings me closer to myself and to writing about the unspoken truth. In Journalism, my role is to report the truth and the injustices that we see in the news and media. I have my own journal that I write in and have often found that it helps with my study path of exploring journalism and creating an active voice for myself. Also, I recently joined the journalism class in my high school that provides a short template of some of the experiences I will be doing as a journalist and some of the questions as a journalist I should ask when conducting interviews and reporting the news.
Which high school or club team was the toughest competitor that you faced and why?
During my first year at Sideout, we played against the team LIVBC. It’s a Long Island team and they are highly competitive in strength, size and speed. I was at first intimidated by them because of the skill level and tempo the team played at, but I realized that the anxiety I was feeling was normal and easy to fix. I also realized feeding into my anxiety will just lower my performance and skill level as a player. I may not have been on the same skill level as the players on that team, however showing them I was not intimidated and pushing toward my strengths was the best thing I can do for myself.