July 15, 2021 – By NJP
Maria Nolan’s volleyball program at IHA goes far beyond skill development. After 15 straight sectional titles, the formula for success is deeper than x’s and o’s on a chalkboard or drills in the gym. It’s quite clear that the core intent of playing at IHA is rallied around the concept of building leaders, both on the court and off. We don’t know what Maria’s magic formula is to accomplish this development. But as you look at the young women that have played at Immaculate Heart over the years, where they have risen to and what their accomplishments are, the formula is working.
The next wave of leadership is forming in the Blue Eagles gym. The underclassman that were groomed and had the opportunity to have exceptional role models in front of them are emerging. Just like the classes before them that have witnessed the extreme success of the program. And yes, it is contagious. The doubt’s that fill most high school level players heads is just not there. They know they can succeed. They have seen it time and time again. And now it’s their turn to take over and become a part of the tradition.
For Alexa Grigaliunas, she has had a full cast of these amazing role models in her life, but none better than her own sister Gianna. Gianna was on the floor for the last 4 sectional titles in a string of 15 and has handed over the reigns to her little sister who felt the pride and glory of winning a sectional title this year at a small gym in Jersey City, at the home of the Hudson Catholic Hawks.
Alexa is a skilled back row performer. Her time at DIGS playing club has well been well spent and she has honed her skills over these past 4 years. She is a flat out great passer and her serve receive is just outstanding. She is agile and acrobatic on defense. She has quickness and uncanny accuracy with her platform. As IHA opponents found out during the Spring season, it’s just so tough to get balls down on her.
Grigs and her DIGS club teammate Grace Coughlin have much to look forward to over these next two high school seasons. Grace has a very similar road to Alexa’s, having the opportunity to play on the same court as her older sister Olivia during her sibling’s senior year. What is such a great story about last years team is that IHA only had 5 upperclassman on the varsity team, 3 seniors and 2 juniors. The young core will keep advancing over these next two seasons and keep the winning tradition in check.
With junior Brookelyn Talmadge leading the attack and Deanna Whelpley heading into her senior year, IHA will have another strong offensive juggernaut. It should be a very fun team to watch.
Alexa finished her club season at Nationals in Orlando just a few weeks ago. She will be occupied with beach volleyball and open gyms until the Blue Eagles are back in the gym for the fall season in August as they begin their quest for 16 in a row.
Here is our interview with Ms. Grigaliunas…
Hey Alexa. Thanks for joining the NJP player interview club. Tell us a bit about yourself?
Hello! My name is Alexa Grigaliunas and I live in River Edge, NJ. I attend Immaculate Heart Academy and I am graduating in the year of 2023. I live with my mother, father, older sister, and my dog Jack. My mother ran track during high school, and my father played baseball at the University of Pittsburgh. When my father had graduated, he began playing beach volleyball in the summer. My sister, who is two years older than me, attended Immaculate Heart Academy (graduating this year), and is soon off to Bryant University to play volleyball!
How long have you played volleyball and what inspired you to take up volleyball initially?
I started playing volleyball when I was in 4th grade. My sister was initially the person who inspired me to play this incredible sport since I enjoyed watching it. My sister has always been my biggest role model and has always pushed me into becoming a better player. Before, I enjoyed taking gymnastic classes and I was a pitcher in softball from 3rd to 6th grade. I decided to put my full focus on volleyball when I went to the Maria Nolan’s volleyball camp because of how much fun I had there and the amount of things that I had learned.
What are your metrics/details? Height, vertical, position, club team, etc. What’s your favorite position to play?
I am about 5’6” and have played as a libero most of my career as a volleyball player. I play this position at both Immaculate Heart and DIGS Volleyball Club. I feel this position is very important in the game of volleyball because this is how a team can properly run the offense- with a good pass to the setter.
Tell us about your IHA teammates. Who do you expect to be this year’s standout players in the Fall?
Although last year was a crazy year with COVID, and it was my first time on Varsity, I have definitely learned many things. At IHA, we are like a family. We have and have had amazing players and coaches. Everyone is very supportive towards each other and I could not ask for a better team. Last year the Varsity team worked towards the same goal- getting the 15th State Sectional Championship Title in a row. Together, we acted as a support system and achieved it in the end.
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?
As if right now I am looking to play in college. I have just started my college recruiting journey, and I am not sure where I’d like to attend yet. Since a young age, I have always been interested in majoring in Nursing.
Being a part of the 15th straight Sectional Championship season for Immaculate Heart Academy must have been something special. Can you share your feelings about the Spring season success?
Winning the 15th straight Sectional Championship for Immaculate Heart Academy was more than something special! With the short amount of time, and the two week quarantine shut down we had in the beginning of the season, it took the whole team to step up and play the best they could. Going into the season we were all very determined to win, and remained very serious. Overall, the very talented players and coaches led us to a successful season- IHA’s legacy continues!
Can you tell us about your club experience on the Digs 16 Red National team as well as your trip to Nationals in Orlando?
There are so many great things I can say about DIGS and my experience I have had there. It is crazy for me to think I have been playing at DIGS since I was 13 and now I am going to be on the 17s team! Every coach I have had, I have loved. By far, this season has been my favorite between the great players to my amazing coach, Haris Brkovic. This has definitely been the longest season, and it had made our team very close. Our team wound up playing older teams because of how unstoppable we were, and won mostly everything. The Nationals Tournament in Orlando was the best tournament I have gone to by far. It formed my teammates and I into becoming better players. The teams out of state were very good and there was a lot of good competition, but we never stopped fighting and supporting each other.
What is the best part of playing libero/DS?
There are so many things that are great about this position. The role of a libero is to keep the team alive, you have to be able to consistently produce passes that allows the setter to run a three-hitter offense. Not only this, but the back row defense looks up to the libero and expects them to get many of the balls that are hit or served.
Tell us about the coaches or mentors that have positively influenced your volleyball career…
At IHA, Coach Maria Nolan, assistant Varsity Coach Ed Jedziniak, and JV Coach Michelle Yoo have taught me many things. All these coaches do a great job of pulling the team together and making an amazing volleyball experience for all the players. Coach Nolan’s accomplishments are truly remarkable- making her a New Jersey Volleyball legend. I feel very lucky to play for her.
At DIGS, my previous Coach, Haris Brkovic, very much positively influenced my volleyball career. He made myself and all of my teammates excited to go to practice. I learned very much from him, whether it was the mental aspect of the game or the physical aspect of the game. I couldn’t thank him enough for taking my volleyball journey to the next level. Also, I very much appreciate Annie DeLoid for helping me begin my Volleyball college journey.
Who motivates you?
My sister has always motivated me into becoming a better player. We are constantly working with each other to make ourselves the best we can be. For example, we play beach volleyball in the summer, go to outdoor volleyball courts, go to the same physical trainer to become stronger, etc. To keep us busy during quarantine we built a wooden object (shown below) that helped us on ball control. It is sad to know she is going off the college soon, but I am very excited to see what the future holds for her and her volleyball career at Bryant University!
What mental tool do you use under pressure?
Mental aspect is a huge part of volleyball in my opinion. My favorite mental tool to use is telling myself that I CAN do it and I WILL do it. I also learned it is important to learn from your mistakes and note to yourself what you can do differently and better next point.
How does athletics make you a better student or worker?
Athletics at IHA has made me a better student. It has taught me how to manage my time between sports and academics in a very productive way.