March 10, 2021 – By NJP

In the movies, there are always stories of unlikely heroes who overcome incredible odds to achive unexpected glory. These Cinderella and underdog victories make for box office hits, some of which break records or result in additional movies of the same name with a 2 or 3 after it. We think of Rocky or Mystery, Alaska, or Hoosiers. But for fans and readers it might be a completely different list. Real life stories like Invinsible, The Rookie, or Rudy might come to mind. The real life story in the volleyball world might be a perfect script for Tyler Kwinta.

Tyler grew up in Springfield, New Jersey and attended Jonathan Dayton High School. He started playing volleyball in his middle school and was inspired by his cousins to learn the game. 5th grade is a great time to get introduced to the game. Especially when you have family support and can have a ton of fun.

Like many male youth volleyball players in New Jersey, he did not have a high school that had a boys volleyball program. So he looked for a club where he can play competively and continue to build his skills. There are almost 150 boys programs in NJ high schools currently. A bit more than when Ty first started high school. But it pales in comparison to the almost 350 girls programs in the Garden state. So let’s just say the chance to play in college seemed to be a reach.

But Tyler landed first at AVVC, then CORE and ended at Warren Six Pack. And he earned the right to play on some of the top club teams in NJ from the age 16 through 18. He was an outstanding player and received mentoring from numerous top level coaches who noticed his passion and perseverance. He quickly locked in on becoming a setter and loved being involved in every play as well as strategizing the offense and making quick decisions on the floor. As he evaluated his college options, he aspired to play at the D1 level. At 5’5″ as a sophomore, Division 1 seemed unlikely according to published stats around typical height for a D1 setter.

“Tyler is an outstanding kid. I was so impressed when I first met him. He has so much drive to learn and improve his game. He is so super talented and driven.” – Coach Pedro Mundaray

Tyler had a lot of things stacked against him. Typically less than 5% of high school aged student athletes will advance to play collegiately. And less than 2% will play at the Division 1 level. With no added exposure from a high school team, it was going to make the challenge even tougher. But Ty was not deterred from going after his dream.

He was given the opportunity to play at D1 Sacred Heart University. And like his prior teams, he is proving his worth. He had his first opportunity to play this season against 11th ranked Penn State. He posted 40 assists in the two day doubleheader as well as 9 digs and two kills. The Pioneers took one set from the Nittany Lions. Which doesn’t happen often.

Sacred Heart University Pioneers. Big Red the Pioneer. SHU was founded in  1963 by the Most Reverend Walter W. Curtis, Bishop … | Mascot, Catholic  university, Sacred

Kwinta is setting some other prominent New Jersey talent at SHU. Freshman Mark Berry has played in 6 matches in his first season so far and is putting up 2 kills/set. Junior’s Nick Palluzzi from Wall and Paolo Samin from St. Peter’s Prep have been regulars on the attack for the Pioneers. In addition to Berry, Jeremiah Bernardo (McNair) and Ife Loverton (South Brunswick) joined the squad this season as well.

So the scene is set. We are not quite sure how the script is going to end for the sophomore. But we expect it to be one more chapter in Tyler’s life that an overachievement will occur. Through strength, perseverance and leadership.

Go Pioneers.

Here is our interview with Tyler…

Tell us a bit about yourself, Tyler?

My name is Tyler Kwinta and I attend Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut. I am currently a sophomore in college double majoring in marketing and sports management . I am from Springfield, New Jersey, and have lived there my entire life with my Mom Loviisa, Dad Jahn, and two sisters Marinna and Kennedy. 

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

I began to play volleyball largely due to the help and inspiration of my cousins Annyssa and Cienna Herlihy. Both of them introduced me to the game and eventually the game became a passion of mine. We constantly played indoor and outdoor volleyball for fun, and it turned into something more.  At my elementary school: Saint James the Apostle School, I joined the volleyball team in 5th grade. 

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

 I am  5’11. I am a setter, and have loved that position since I started playing. When setting during a match,  I’m involved in almost every play, therefore the game is in my hands most of the time, and having that responsibility is something I thrive on. 

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

This year is an interesting one because with COVID-19 we have had to deal with many obstacles, however as a team, working together and remaining united will help us succeed. I think we will be seeing a lot of new faces in matches, and I am excited to see where we could go this year!

You are a true unicorn, playing D1 volleyball in college having never played high school as Jonathan Dayton did not have a program. Was it difficult not having the opportunity to play high school volleyball?

When I entered high school at Jonathan Dayton, they didn’t have a mens’ volleyball program. It was tough not having the opportunity to play in high school when a lot of my club teammates were preparing for their season. But, while everyone else had their season going on, I would come to my club and get extra reps or be coaching almost every day of the week.

What was your best memory of your club career at Six Pack?

The best memory of my club career at Warren Sixpack would be my first time going to Nationals in Phoenix, AZ.  It was great to spend a week with my teammates and play some of the best competition in the country.

Sacred Heart attracts many top New Jersey volleyball players. Can you tell us about how players like Paolo Samin from St. Peters, Mark Berry from Fair Lawn, Nick Palluzzi from Wall, and Ife Loverton from South Brunswick have facilitated your transition to college volleyball?

Moving into my college volleyball career at Sacred Heart University, it is considered a great spot for New Jersey volleyball players. Coming in as a freshman I had two teammates who were from NJ. Nick Paluzzi and Paolo Samin were super welcoming and great to play with on the court. This year it has been a positive experience to get to know Ife Loverton, a Rutgers transfer and also play again with Mark Berry who played on the same club team as myself. There is nothing like a Jersey boys’ connection that is great to see.

Sacred Heart Pioneers - Wikipedia

Tell us about your Coach Bob Bertucci?

It has been great getting to know my coach Bob Bertucci. I can say he is someone that has been all I can ask for as a coach. He is constantly helping me with my setting technique, mechanics, and mental game. Also, he is a former setter himself and knows better than anyone about the game; having been around it for so long. He is a great guy, and I am glad I get the opportunity to be able to be coached by him.

What’s next for Tyler Kwinta after Sacred Heart?

I am honestly not sure what is in store for me after school. I hope to graduate with two degrees from Sacred Hearts Business school, and I would love to work in the sports world. Another one of my goals is to eventually become a college coach myself. 

What advice do you have for NJ High School volleyball players who aspire to play in college?

The best advice I can give to players who aspire to play in college is to not let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. If you work hard enough at something and put the time in, you can achieve your goals.

What was the biggest challenge in transitioning to college volleyball?

Since I didn’t have a high school team, I could only compare it to my club team. The biggest challenge I experienced was the pace of the game. Especially at such a high level it takes time to adjust too.

What do you do during the offseason to stay in shape and prepare for next year?

This past off-season was a beneficial one for me because every day, I was constantly working to get stronger, whether it was going to the gym or going for a run. I also played a lot of beach volleyball over the summer, whether it was leagues during the week or tournaments on the weekends. Since I’m still involved with coaching at Sixpack, I am getting lots of touches which I feel is super important in the offseason.

Where do you draw your motivation from regarding volleyball?

I draw my motivation for volleyball from the desire to be the best I can be. I was told often that I am too short to be a volleyball player or that I can not play at the Division 1 level. I’ve used those words as motivation to always work hard and improve my game.

Is there a teacher or coach who really helped you along the way?

Throughout my volleyball career there have been many coaches who have helped me along the way. One coach in particular would be my coach from the club team at Core Volleyball: Pedro Mundaray. Pedro coached me when I was a sophomore in high school. He brought my game to another level by teaching me what it meant to be a setter and how valuable a setter was on the court. Another coach would be my first coach and my principal, Pat Dolansky. She really helped me get started in the game on a competitive level and was one of the most supportive coaches I have ever had.

Someone that has greatly helped with my volleyball career would be the club director at Warren Sixpack, Fred Siegle. Although he was not my coach, he was always there for me and supported me. Fred is also the one who gave me the opportunity to coach for him and stay involved in the club to this day. Fred is a great guy who loves being around the game and has been a huge supporter of boys volleyball in New Jersey.

I also want to talk about my coach from Warren Sixpack Krys Pescinski. Krys coached me for two years at Sixpack. He really helped me push my game to a higher level as I was getting older in my club years.

I have certainly had a lot of people who have helped me to get me to where I am today. But I just want to thank my parents, my two sisters, my aunts and uncles, and cousins, who have always supported me. They have always made an effort to come to all my games and it is always great to see them in the stands. 

More from Coach Pedro Mundaray at CORE:

As a coach, you look for that one player that shows a unique drive to always give 1000%, not just as an individual athlete, but as team leader. That was TK! He was perhaps the smallest player on the team but the one with the biggest heart and dedication. He was always early and looking to work extra to give himself the opportunity to master his skills. His volleyball IQ grew with every practice and every match. He understood the game better than any on the team and soon became our leader. He was our youngest captain. I try to train my setters not just to run the offensive system but also to be aggressive enough to be able to generate points on their own. He always knew when to dump, tip, or turn and swing as an attacker in an overpass situation. He mastered the ability to read the game better than any other the setter I have had the pleasure of training. I can’t talk about Tyler without talking about his family. His mom, dad and siblings were always there as his support system and personal cheerleaders. This always pushed him to succeed. I wish I had more athletes like him with his passion and drive. He continues to apply that same passion in his personal life and in college.

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