July 14, 2021 – By NJP

When Mary Huegel took the floor for Colts Neck High School last Spring, she was looking to ignite a change. Not just a change in the uncertain COVID driven world, but a change for the Cougars to get back on track after a rebuilding season her sophomore year in the Fall of 2019. Colts Neck was looking for answers after a 5-11 campaign. Mary was the promising young star at middle who slammed back 41 blocks in her first varsity year. Her 6′ frame and powerful athletic ability breathed hope into the program along with a slew of younger players and underclassman who were building for an improved year.

The Cougars did not disappoint this past Spring. They tallied a 10-4 record overall, finished 7-1 in the Shore A North, and rode the wave of momentum into state playoffs before succumbing in the State Sectional semi-final to a strong SPF team. Mary transitioned from middle to outside for the short spring season and posted breakout numbers. In just 14 games, Mary tallied just under 100 kills, 141 digs, 36 aces, and 10 blocks, leading the team in kills and aces. This type of transition is common when you are clearly identified as the 6 rotation talent to build your team around so the move to outside was not unexpected.

Mary has thrived as an outside hitter and it’s now her new favorite position. She is a natural born killer at the net and can slam kills from the back row as well with a quick and smooth swing from her right arm moving in a perfect technical manner. She can drive the ball on the attack at the 10 foot line as well as her approach from the left side.

The major change for Mary during her breakout season as a junior was her outstanding development as a defensive player. She moves well going for digs, anticipates attacks well, and has a long reach that can keep balls in play. For a middle hitter, picking up as a strong digger is no easy task but Mary transitioned well and is a solid asset on defense.

Colts Neck has a lot to look forward to this Fall. They return 8 varsity players from the Spring team and have Huegel as a go-to on the attack, the service line, and now on the back row.

Mary will no doubt be looked at for a leadership role as a senior. The returning cast for the Cougars is formidable and should position them for continued success at the shore. Mary’s beach partner Alex Foley is primed for a breakout junior season. She made solid contributions as a sophomore and continued at MOCO as a club player post-season. Kiersten Geissler is also returning for her senior year at middle. Kiersten led the team in blocks and averaged almost 2/match. Madison McSorley lifted 273 digs in the 14 matches an she has distinguished herself as one of the top liberos at the shore in her sophomore year. Coach Greg Hope will need to replace graduated setter Gabby Chin in the rotation. Rising senior Christianna Simon will be a candidate for that role for sure or could continue as a solid, strong swinging opposite hitter.

MOCO has really helped in developing Mary into the top players at the shore. When you combine her athletic accomplishments with her outstanding academic record, she is setting her goals high for her collegiate career as she aspires to join the medical field. With her older sister at Princeton, she appears to have the pedigree to reach for the stars. But for now, we will get the chance to enjoy watching her senior volleyball campaign as she drives the Cougars to achieve their maximum potential.

Here is our interview with Ms. Huegel…

How are you, Mary? Thanks for joining the NJP player interview club. Tell us a bit about yourself? (What school do you attend, what town do you live? What year are you graduating? Tell us about your family? etc.)

Hi! I’m a rising senior at Colts Neck High School in the Law and Public Service Program. I live in Marlboro with my mom, older brother Cal, older sisters Grace and Faith, my dog Smores, and my cat Atticus. My grandma and poppop also live nearby and are an important part of my family. My sister is currently a rising senior at Princeton University.

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

I started playing volleyball freshman year. My parents told me I should try it just because I was tall. I already played basketball and softball and figured “why not try a new sport?” I had no idea how in love I would fall with the sport. After one camp, I was hooked.

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

I’m a 6’0” outside hitter with a 9’3” block touch and 9’7” approach jump. I was a middle blocker for Colts Neck until the middle of last season. I had been working as an outside on my club team since August of 2020 and my school coach decided it would benefit the team if I was moved to OH. I love both positions but outside is my favorite. I enjoy playing defense and playing all 6 rotations. While I do miss blocking across the net as a middle, I feel more at ease as an outside.

Tell us about your Cougars teammates. Who do you expect to be this year’s standout players in the Fall?

I love every single one of my teammates. They all bring their own energy to the court and make me feel at home. I love that I can be 100% myself around them. Rising junior Alex Foley (OH) is definitely going to be a star this season. We play on the same club team and I have seen how much she has grown as a player. I know I can always count on her to put the ball down when she’s in the front row. Her jump serves are almost as killer as her swings. Rising junior Madison McSorley (L) is going to be unstoppable this season. There isn’t a single ball she can’t dig. She lays out for every ball and always has your back. She has such a bright future and I can’t wait to play with her in a month. Lastly, get ready for strength from both pins. Rising senior Christianna Simon (OPP) has been putting in a lot of work and I know that she will make waves this season from the right side. Her swings are strong and her serves are so tricky to receive. She is so talented and is a force to be reckoned with.

The MOCO 18U Crew

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

I would love to play in college. I’m currently looking into Emory University, Catholic University, Gettysburg College, Johns Hopkins University, Tufts University, and Princeton University. I’m constantly researching to see if I can find other schools that are good fits for me. I currently plan to study biology or chemistry in college, as I want to pursue a career in medicine. I’m considering epidemiology or dermatology.

Mary and Alex win 16U tournament

Can you tell us about your club experience at MOCO?

I started playing for MOCO last August when Alex Foley told me to come to a summer practice. I immediately felt welcome. I had practiced with other clubs before and could tell that MOCO was a perfect fit for me. Our head coach, Bert Hor, takes the time to figure out how every single one of us can improve as players. It was his idea to transition me from a middle to an outside. MOCO has made me an extremely well-rounded player. I have been forced out of my comfort zone to become a more aggressive player. I am currently playing beach volleyball with MOCO and have already noticed improvements in my vertical, ball control, and volleyball IQ. I’ve started to get the hang of beach, winning the 16U bracket in a tournament with Alex Foley, and am excited to see how much more I can improve with beach before the school season begins. MOCO has pushed me to heights I never thought I’d reach and I’m just getting started.

You improved defensively as a junior getting almost 5 digs per set during the Spring season. Do you expect to be playing outside as a senior or middle?

I will be playing outside as a senior. With returning varsity middle Kiersten Geissler and strong underclassmen middles, I feel confident in the choice to place me at OH. During the Spring season, the plan was to keep me at middle as a junior then move me to outside as a senior. My coach, Greg Hope, knew I was a solid outside but believed it would be best to place me as a strong blocking presence as a middle. Midseason, we decided it would make more sense to place me at outside so I could be on the court at all times and provide a backrow attack. We saw success with that change and I don’t see myself moving back to MB.

The Cougars finished 10-4 overall in the Spring and made it to the sectional semi-final. You led the team in kills and return 8 solid varsity players for the Fall. What are your personal and team goals for your senior season this Fall?

Personally, I would love to get over 100 kills this season, and I certainly think it’s possible. I also want to keep a positive mindset throughout the entire season. No matter the score, no matter how many errors I make, I want to keep my head up and work even harder in the next play. Also, I believe as a senior and returning starter it will be my job to pick anyone up when they are down and ensure that all of the underclassmen feel welcome. As a team, I would love to maintain the wonderful chemistry that our team has had throughout my entire time as a Cougar. We’ve always been close, going out to bagel breakfasts (before COVID) and joking around at practice. This chemistry is part of what made us so successful last season and what will take us even further this season. Winning the divisional title is the beginning of our goals as a team. If I remember correctly, our last divisional title was 2009, so it would be amazing to finally update that banner. We would love to make it to the sectional final and take the title. Every game is a gift and we’re just happy to be on the court together.

Who inspired you as a young athlete?

My head coach, Greg Hope, is the primary reason I’ve progressed as far as I have in volleyball. I remember a JV game my freshman year when I was suddenly placed at outside. After the game, he pulled me aside and told me he saw potential in me. At our banquet my freshman year, I won the Rookie of the Year award. Afterwards, Coach Hope told me he expects great things from me. After these events, I spent my entire summer at volleyball camps to get better. In my mind, I had to live up to and then exceed his expectations. I started varsity my sophomore year, proving that hard work pays off. Despite a rough season (5-11 record), Coach Hope never lost hope in our team. During the season, after a particularly rough game when I was down on myself, he told me that I was going to be one of the best players in the shore conference. These words made me work even harder. I attended more camps and clinics and eventually joined MOCO. I worked out more to increase my vertical and athleticism. The drive to always be better, inspired by Coach Hope, is what has inspired me to never stop working hard.

What is your favorite volleyball story?

My favorite volleyball story would have to be beating Pinelands in our last game of my sophomore season. After the somewhat unsuccessful season we had after losing 9 seniors the year before, I honestly went into our last game feeling upset. Pinelands was a beast of a team compared to us in terms of record and I didn’t know how we would compare in this game. All I knew is that we had to come out with a lot of energy. We certainly did. We took the first set 25-19. This first win ignited a fire we had never experienced before. The gym was humming with our energy during the second set. Every girl on the bench was jumping up and down and screaming at the top of her lungs. I remember getting lightheaded from cheering. Our spectator bleachers were typically quiet with a few claps after each point, but not that day. Our parents were roaring. No one was playing selfishly that day. We felt a team unity like never before. We won the second set 25-22. To beat an amazing team like Pinelands in two sets was unimaginable and we all felt like we were on cloud 9. Just telling that story brings a smile to my face.

What do you do to calm your butterflies while you compete?

I could definitely be viewed as a nervous person. I had the biggest butterflies of my life before every sectional game at the end of the season. In the middle of class on gameday I’d begin to feel nauseous. A mix of nerves and excitement took over my body the entire day. My trick is to always be moving. It’s common to see me randomly dancing in the middle of the court or bursting out into jumping jacks. I think I’ve scared a few teammates when I started running at them at full speed to get rid of my jitters. I get the most nervous when we are lining up and the ref is checking our positioning, but once the game starts, all the butterflies disappear and I only focus on the present moment.

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