March 27, 2021 – By NJP
Natalya Hechavarria does not have a common story for the typical journey of a NJ high school player. She has never played a varsity game coming into this year. And a recent move has taken her from the rural setting in Jackson in Central/South to the city of Union City in the North. All of a sudden, she is quarterbacking a high-powered Soaring Eagles squad that is 5-0 and she is near the top in the state in Assists with 94.
The 5’3″ setter has been playing club volleyball for Ocean for the past five years. Despite the move North, she has remained there and has loved every second of the experience.
She now finds herself feeding two of the top attackers in the County, juniors Nathaly Flores and Mathilde Karskens. The team looks rather unstoppable right now and has been tearing it up through their first five games. They have been facing and beating the best Hudson County has to offer thus far. But when you use that expression, Hudson Catholic is always the team thought of regarding perennial dominance. The Hawks are also undefeated and are considered one of the top teams in NJ. Union City will take on Hudson Catholic this Monday as they attempt to flip the script for the Spring mini-season.
Hudson Catholic is super deep and has benefited from some recent transfer activity that makes them considered part of the NJ elite. If Union City can pull off an underdog victory, it would propel them to the top of the ranks.
The team has developed the kind of spirit and positive attitude that is so contagious and could lead to great things happening in the future. We expect the Spring to be filled with many surprises and this could be the one at the top of the list.
Here is our interview with Ms. Hechavarria…
Tell us a bit about yourself, Natalya?
My name is Natalya Hechavarria and I am a senior at the Jose Marti STEM Academy (annex of Union City High School). My goal is to pursue a career in Computer Science, coding specifically. I moved to Union City last August from Jackson, New Jersey, where I lived with my mom, Diana, and my grandparents, Ken and Myriam. I now live with my dad and stepmom, Ray and Rachel, and my baby sister, Edith. The move from a quiet suburban town to a very busy city was quite the change but I embraced it! I began playing volleyball in 2016 and moving to Union City has given me the great opportunity of playing with some great girls for a wonderful coach at an amazing school!
How long have you played volleyball and what inspired you to take up volleyball initially?
When I was in 7th grade, one of my gym teachers, Mr. Jason Ulrich, happened to be an excellent volleyball coach and he convinced my best friend and I to sign up for his Summer Volleyball Camp. I immediately fell in love with the sport and that next year I signed up with the Ocean County Volleyball Club. My family is huge on sports, so once they saw that I was serious about volleyball, they made sure I knew I always had their support.
What are your metrics/details? Height, vertical, position, club team, etc. What’s your favorite position to play?
I am 5’3” and I am a setter. When I began playing volleyball, I went from being DS, to back row outside, to opposite, and finally to setter. It was always my dream to be a setter but it definitely took a lot of training and hard work to get there. I love being in the middle of every play and the challenge of giving my hitters a perfect set every time.
Tell us about your Union City teammates. Who do you expect will be this year’s standout and up and coming players?
I can’t express how lucky I feel to have such great teammates. Not only are they extremely talented, but they all have such amazing attitudes and our on-the-court chemistry is just incredible. Obviously, my outside hitters are absolute machines who kill it even if my sets are a little off the mark. One teammate that stands out, in particular, in my opinion, is our DS, Jennifer Neilan. Anything that comes to her, we can trust her to get that ball up, and she does it with ease. Communication is always key and this team has got it.
NJP considers you as one of the top players in the state. Do you plan to play volleyball at the collegiate level?
Most definitely! I haven’t had any stats before this year so I wasn’t expecting any offers but I 100% want to be a Walk-On. It was always my goal to play in college.
Tell us about your club experience at Ocean?
I’ve been playing for Ocean since 2016 and I’ve come such a long way. The coaches changed my life and the players I grew with there are still some of my closest friends. It’s such a fun and positive environment with amazing opportunities. Ocean taught me everything from the basics of volleyball to perseverance and commitment.
What is it like setting for players of the caliber of Nathaly Flores and Mathilde Karskens?
It’s an indescribable feeling to be able to set up these girls and watch them just slam the ball down. They are incredible! We’re working on different plays which I’m super excited about. There’s so much more to come!
The Soaring Eagles are soaring at 5-0, but you have a monster match coming up against Hudson Catholic on the 29th. How do you think that game will go?
I think it will be close, but I have a really good feeling that we’ll prevail. Our coach, Michael Cerreta, is incredible and has been preparing us for this match. On top of that, we really feed off of each other’s energy, especially with such a positive group of girls. A good attitude goes a long way and I think with our momentum, we will be unstoppable.
What is your favorite inspirational video or song that you like to watch or listen to before games?
Before games, I actually go through my camera roll and watch videos of my baby sister. She’s my best friend and is practically attached to my hip. She’s such a clown and is always making us laugh.
What are your other hobbies or interests?
Volleyball is definitely my #1 passion, but a close second is art. My mom runs her own art & entertainment company and I used to face paint with her before the pandemic. On top of that, I’m always sketching in notebooks and on my iPad. Just like volleyball, it’s a huge stress reliever. I basically grew up on Bob Ross so it’s a surprise to some that I’m not going to school for art. Another passion, one that I am going to school for, is computer programming. I have a knack for math and computers so coding is the perfect match. I really enjoy it and can’t wait to pursue it as my career!
Is there a teacher or coach who really helped you along the way?
The best coach I ever had was at OCVBC for two straight seasons, Coach Jamie Sweeney. She made me the player I am today. It was easy to see how much she cared and connected to each of my teammates individually, including myself. She even called us her 16-year-old BFFs. I was going through a tough time outside of volleyball during our second season together, but knowing she had my back and I could count on her was a huge weight off my shoulders.
Who is your support group? Mom and Dad?
My Mom has been my #1 fan since the start, along with my dad, stepmom, and grandparents. They all give me the utmost support and I couldn’t be more grateful. Over the years, they’ve come to most of my games and tournaments to cheer me on.
How are you and your family dealing with current world situation with COVID-19?
COVID-19 has definitely affected my family and I, especially since everyone in my household has had it at one point or another since this all started. One positive thing I can take out of this, however, is how much time I’ve been able to spend with my sister and my dog. My dog is definitely a fan of us all being home and my bond with my sister is stronger than ever. I’ve been doing online school since the end of my Junior year and I missed out on most every senior event so far. However, my school plans on reopening this May which I’m super excited about!