September 26, 2021 – By NJP
In our current days and times, we can all gain perspective from different interactions we have with people in our community. Every one has stuff they deal with every day. Sometimes it is open, and sometimes we just never know. As much as we think we understand, unless you walk in that persons shoes (or sneakers in this case), you never really have the perspective needed to get the big picture.
We have been interacting with Hudson Catholic setter Rachel Hennessey over the past couple of years. She has been a wonderful supporter of our website and always available for answering questions we may have on high school, tournament, or club volleyball. When she emerged this Spring as the starting varsity setter for the Hawks as a junior, we were rooting for her to have success in a dynamic role as the quarterback of one of the perennial leaders in North Jersey volleyball. We also knew it was going to be a challenge to step into that role and she would need the mental toughness to survive and succeed.
In 2018, Rachel went through the most maturing circumstances one can ever have. She lost her Mom, Lori, to cancer at just 46 years old, just months before starting high school. When you lose a parent, especially one you are close with, it is life changing. It is tough enough when this happens when you are in your 50’s or 60’s. But when it happens when you are 13, it makes you grow up very fast.
Our concerns for her ability to step up into the high profile role at Hudson Catholic are much more diminished now. She had a truly amazing Spring and quarterbacked a team that was a game away from a potential state championship. And she did it with grace and a sense of calm and confidence that shows maturity beyond her years.
As she entered her 4th varsity year, Rachel is a key component of a Hawks team that has been perfect this Fall. They have yet to lose a set in regular season play and Rachel is the one again that the team depends on to strategize the impressive attack that fans are used to seeing in Hudson County every year.
As we enter October, Hudson will hit the toughest part of their schedule. Their early season battle with the much improved Union City Soaring Eagles was competitive and the rematch will happen on 10/4. They will face last years UCC champ Westfield on the following night and then have NJAC’s West Morris Central a week later. It would not surprise us to see the Hawks enter the County Tourney undefeated. But there is a lot of volleyball to play before that happens.
For Rachel, in her last year of high school, she would like nothing better than to bring a state championship to Jersey City. That road will lead through IHA who took that opportunity away last season. But to get one game further is Rachel’s goal. It would be a magical ending to her high school volleyball career and we can’t help but cheer her on. Hudson Catholic has a world of talent on their roster again this season. But it might take something special to bring it all together. Having an angel on their shoulders may provide those strong wings to have the Hawks fly to the top of the State!!
Here is our interview with Ms. Hennessey…
Hi Rachel. Thanks for joining the NJP player interview club. Tell us a bit about yourself?
Hi, thank you for having me. I’m a senior at Hudson Catholic Regional High School, I just turned 17 this week. I was born and raised in Jersey City. I live with my Dad, my older sister Alyssa and we have a dog named Bella. My Dad and sister are really supportive. They come to as many games/tournaments as possible and are always driving me around to practice and games.
How long have you played volleyball and what inspired you to take up volleyball initially?
I played for my middle school for fun, we won the city championship in eighth grade. I started playing because my sister played for Snyder High School. I watched her team play a lot and it looked like a lot of fun. My parents always encouraged me to try everything, and I played a lot of different sports growing up. Once I started playing, I instantly loved it. I started playing club and learning how to set my freshman year.
What are your metrics/details? Height, vertical, position, club team, etc. What is your favorite position to play?
I’m 5’7, I am a setter, this year will be my first season with Xtreme Volleyball Academy which I am really excited about. My favorite position is setter because I get to do a little bit of passing, blocking, and of course setting. I also like that I can run the offense because I love calling plays and executing them.
Tell us about your Hawk teammates. Who do you expect to be this year’s up and coming and standout players in the Fall?
We lost a lot of seniors from our previous season so many people have had to step up and play new or different positions, but everyone has been really open to learning new things. This year’s team has a bunch of talent. Drew Leonardis is amazing at serve receive and is overall such a versatile player. Kiannisha Santiago is a force at the net, whether she’s at a pin or in the middle she has a very high IQ when it comes to ball placement. Jade Nunes is doing an amazing job hitting/blocking in the middle as well as on defense and serving. I’m really excited for Analdys Abreu to be able to join us on the court soon because we have great chemistry and she’s an overall great hitter. Kaelynn just started playing last season, but she really stepped up in her starting role, especially when it comes to blocking. Genesis Colon and Alyssa Rivera are doing really well on defense and serve receive.
How are you finding setting compared to your previous role as a DS?
Transitioning from DS to setting gave me a lot more responsibility on the court. I have been setting for my club team since freshman year, so I wasn’t just thrown blindly into it which was a relief. I was excited because setting has always been my main position and my favorite. I find setting to be a lot more exciting as well as more challenging.
What has it been like transitioning from Coach Fernando Colon to your new Coach Katria Stewart?
The transition from Coach Colon to Coach Stewart went smoothly which I was thankful for considering it’s my senior year. Coach K played for Coach Colon and was our assistant coach last season, so she was very familiar with how our system worked. Both of them are amazing coaches. Coach K has challenged me a lot this year and pushes us all to try new things. She has a lot of confidence in us, sometimes she believes in us more than we believe in ourselves. She always expects a lot from us and is a great coach. I’m excited to see how this year will play out.
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?
Playing a sport in college has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid. Currently I am looking at Saint Peter’s University, Monroe College, Nyack College and Molloy College. I would like to major in criminal justice and minor in English. I think I want to be a lawyer, but it isn’t set in stone.
The Hawks completed an amazing season winning another Hudson County, finishing 12-2, and getting to a final game against IHA with the #1 ranking in the state on the line. Tell us about your ride last season and the best parts of the journey.
Although the season was really short, and we didn’t have fans last season it was still so much fun. Our team had no shortage of energy, we always managed to have fun and be loud on the court. My favorite memories come from off the court. We did a lot of team bonding and we were always hanging out together on the weekends or after practice.
Is there an athlete that you look up to as a role model and why?
An athlete that I look up to is Michael Jordan. Watching his documentary inspired me. He goes beyond what is asked of him because of his love and commitment to the sport and his teammates. When his dad died, he could’ve used it as an excuse to take a break or give up. Instead, he used it as drive and motivation to be great not just for himself but for his father. He is the epitome of a true athlete.
Union City appears the most equipped to stand in your way for the top spot in Hudson County. How did you assess them in your game on 9/15?
Union City has a solid team. We knew going into the game that it would be a battle. They have talented hitters and a solid defense. Our team fought back well and stayed in the game mentally even when the game was close. I’m excited to play them again in a few weeks.
Do you think attitude is a factor in winning?
In my opinion, the mental side of the game is just as important if not more important than the physical side. Your mindset, energy, and attitude is something we can control at all times. So even if I’m having an off-game skill wise I know that I can bring something else to the team. I can bring a lot of energy, a positive attitude, and help my teammates to have a positive mindset. Mentality is the most important part of any sport.
Who motivates you?
The person who motivates me in every aspect of my life was and is my mom. Before every season I write her name on my shoes. My mom never played sports but when I first started playing volleyball she would stand in the street and toss balls for me to pass or set. Whether it was softball, basketball or volleyball, my mom was always at every game and waited for me at every practice.
Not seeing her in the gym was really hard for me so I started double tapping my heart every time I serve to calm me down and to remind myself that she is with me.
Although I don’t always succeed at this, I try my best to make my Mom, my family, and my coaches proud every time that I step on the court.