November 24, 2021 – By NJP
For the NJCU Gothic Knights, you can sum up their 2021 season in just two words… Salem, Virginia.
Hmmm. What does that even mean? Well, Salem, Virginia was the site of last seasons NCAA D3 Championship. Where 12 teams get together to decide who is the best D3 men’s college volleyball team in the Country. It carried a story of perseverance for a Gothic Knights team that could not have followed a better script.
Their schedule was well orchestrated by Head Coach Carlo Edra. He would plan to take on two of NJ’s best teams in his opening matches, both ranked in the top 20. They held their own against both Kean and Rutgers despite losing 6 of 7 sets. But it prepped them well for their Skyline league schedule where they charged out of the gate with 4 convincing wins. They then ran into a St. Joseph’s team that was #1 in the Skyline and it was a rather ugly affair. They were taken down a notch by a very good volleyball team and in hindsight, it may have been the best thing to happen to them during the season.
It was just three weeks later that they again face St. Joseph’s, but this time the Skyline title was on the line. A win would advance them to a birth in the NCAA D3 tournament, but it seemed like a far reach when considering the challenges they had against the Eagles in their prior match. For the Gothic Knight’s, the game was an epic example of just how far the program has come in the past years as team NJCU buckled in and gave their fans a night to remember.
The first game opened in the usual manner with St. Joe’s taking set 1, 25-20. The second set started equally as dismal with NJCU falling behind 17-9. That’s when the Gothic Knights took control of their destiny, stepped up, and played the best volleyball of the campaign, under pressure, and with the season on the line. They forced extra time in game two with a remarkable comeback, and got an extended win 26-24. They battled in set 3 and dug out a 25-22 win. They were two points away from the biggest win in school history but it slipped away in game 4 as St. Joe’s showed why they were undefeated thus far in the season as they edged NJCU 25-23. In the deciding game 5, the back and forth battle ended in an ecstatic Gothic Knights win, 18-16, placing the team in the NCAA D3 tournament.
Let’s showcase the heroes from that night. Junior setter Leo Ferrari posted 60 assists as the former Kearny standout conducted the Gothic Knights orchestra like Carlos Kleiber conducting Beethoven Symphonies 4&7 Concertgebouw. He was not the only hero that night. One by one players stepped up in the spotlight to knock it out of the park. Jon Andrews smashed 26 kills, Hanel Collado added twelve, and middle Brandon DaSilva not only posted 11 kills but had a massive 8 blocks in the finale. And Rich Valentin lifted 16 digs over 5 sets on defense. Each teammate playing their part in the historic win.
The trip to Salem was a true testament to a program on the rise. The results may not have been what was planned, but getting a chance to be part of the show was a valuable experience that will carry over for many years to come.
This years squad will have a slightly different look. NJCU has lost a few senior to graduation as well as a player who transferred. They have a solid recruiting class coming in that will add their future.
Coach Edra was upbeat about the teams 2022 chances. “We return 11 players from last year’s conference championship team with the majority of the starting lineup coming back. The expectation is to hit the ground running and build on last year’s season.” Edra has been a welcome addition as Head Coach as he returned to the program in 2019. He is setting high expectations for the group. “Anything short of another conference championship would be a failure. Since I’ve been back as the head coach, we’ve had two shortened seasons in 2020 and 2021. We have some competitive teams in our schedule and I’m eager to see how the team handles a full load.”
NJP broke down statistical contributions from last season and compared in to the roster being put out this year. That is shown below…njcu
The NJCU program, with Edra’s leadership, has branched out in its recruitment efforts. The campus has gone through, and is continuing to go through renovations and improvements, as they extend their campus presence down to the Jersey City waterfront. The program has traditionally recruited Hudson County’s best players but now has reached outside the county as well as outside the state. “NJCU has typically been a college where Hudson County volleyball players comprised most of the roster. We have branched out our recruiting and have brought in guys from Morris, Union, Gloucester, Essex County in New Jersey and even a recruit from Arizona” coach explained. Here is a look at the new additions:
Shane Conley – OH/OPP – Jefferson #15: Shane is one of NJ’s top recruits for the 2021 grad year and received the NJP award for First team All-State. He has collected some great club experience at GSEVC. He had 220 kills in his senior year as well as 145 digs and 46 aces. The 6’2″ senior was a big part of Jefferson’s success as they finished 19-3 overall record and were 11-1 in the NJAC. He was also awarded sectional and conference first-team honors for NJP.
Ryan Lin – OH – Union #20: Ryan got a late start to his senior year but was still able to put up nearly 100 kills and digs for the season. He had 12 kills in multiple matches, the last against a very tough Ridge squad that Union defeated in straight sets. Ryan played on the SideOut Sports top 18 team during his senior season.
Anthony Trivers – OH – Washington Township #2: Anthony had a stellar senior season posting 153 kills for Washington Township. The 6’1″ Trivers is a Quandomania club player and lead his high school team in kills in his final year.
Michael McGehee – MB – Agua Fria (Arizona) #23: Michael was a standout performer for Aqua Fria High School in Arizona as a senior. He smacked 198 kills in his final year and over 400 in his career. His 6’4″ size will be a big asset for the Gothic Knights.
Walk-ons: Carlos Rivera (West Caldwell Tech), Kenneth Gil (North Bergen), Luis Pacheco (Ferris)
Key players to watch:
Jonathan Andrews – Senior – OH (“Captain”)
Jon has made such a solid contribution during the past 4 years. Coach Edra is really excited about his senior year. “He’s been the face of NJCU Volleyball during his career here. His game has seen some major maturity in the past couple of seasons and will make a huge statement in his final season.”
Brandon DaSilva – Junior – MB (“Captain”)
Former Kearny high school star Brandon DaSilva brings size and skill to the NJCU middle. His freshman season, he was one of the leading blockers in the country. And his attack continues to reap benefits for the Knights. “He has found a way to level up each season he’s been here and that could not be more terrifying for anyone he goes up against. It’s a matter of time before he’s going to be recognized for his abilities at the national level. This might be the season he does it.” Coach Edra shared with us.
Hanel Collado – Sophomore – OH
Hanel is a certainly a player to watch this season. Coach gives him so much credit for his work ethic and effort this past year. “This is the guy you use to motivate players at the bottom of the depth chart. Last season he was not one of our strongest outsides on our roster at the beginning of 2021. All he did was stay silent, listen to direction, work his butt off and he eventually took the starting outside position alongside Jonathan Andrews. He has gotten himself in exponentially better shape and has continued to grind in the offseason.” Coach has hopes for the second-year player. “This will be Hanel’s breakout season.”
Mahmoud Serour – Sophomore – OH/L/S
Mahmoud was an outstanding addition to last years squad and got considerable playing time for a freshman. He has a ton of versatility and can play multiple positions. The former SideOut Sports club player has showed he can play at this level, and play well. He also has been lights out on the service line as he posted 24 aces during the short spring season, leading the team in this category.
Shane Conley – Freshman – OH/OPP
We expect that the Jefferson high school recruit will crash the starting line-up quickly. The Garden State Elite club team member is a versatile player that has size and a strong talent level. “Shane has made the transition from high school to college ball very easy. Considering he plays two positions at a high level (Outside and Opposite), he will be knocking on the door of a starting spot even with all the guys at his positions returning from the year before” Coach shared.
There will be plenty of battles for starting roles and playing time on this squad, as coach tries to cream the top of his talent pool. Coach shared a few observations with us regarding the potential starting line-up come January. But obviously a lot is subject to change depending on the next two months activity in the gym.
There is a battle expected for the starting libero role. We expect that seniors Daniel Esteva and Nicolas Figueroa will fight for minutes with sophomore Mahmoud Serour on the back line. We get the sense that Coach feels that Serour can take command of that role over the next three seasons, but he has the luxury of some strong options during a long season. “Dan is the spark plug. He is a high energy guy who plays every point like it’s his last” coach told us. “Nico is the thinker. He breaks down each play like a coach and wants to figure out where to be to give him the best chance to get the ball.” He also told us “Mahmoud is the x-factor. He can literally hit outside, set and play libero with the latter position being the one he can flourish in.”
The middle may be the role that is most challenging for NJCU. They have such a strong player in Brandon DaSilva but with the departure of Martin Chromulak, they only have one official middle on the roster. Edra shared “Michael McGehee has some experience in the middle and is like a sponge when it comes to learning how to play it at this level, so he’ll get first crack at the position.” Coach has also moved Chris Castillo over to the middle to shore up the position and Edra has been very impressed by his progress thus far and his ability to adapt to the change.
The Opposite position seems clearly in the hands of James Bajor, the third Captain on the team. With freshman Shane Conley on board, Coach Edra will have some options here and a nice talent pool to create a competition for minutes. Chris Castillo’s move from opposite to middle will leave the position in these two players hands.
The outside roles appear to be in the hands of both Andrews and Collado and we expect them to be spelled from time to time with the new recruits Trivers and Lin in the early season to who will rise to the top. The middle shortage can create some additional opportunity here is the existing outsides slide over. Junior Chris Castillo will be another solid option as he has been a nice contributor at pin.
NJCU is a rising program in the NJ D3 landscape. They have a tri-match in January that will tell us a story early on if they will be contender for a return to the NCAA D3 tournament as they face Stevens and New Paltz. They follow that up with early January matches against Kean and Rutgers. They will face solid programs in Alvernia, Misericordia and the new program at Drew University before heading into their Skyline league schedule. We expect them to take some bruises in those early matches, but it will keep them well prepared for their league portfolio starting in mid-February. This is a program to watch in NJ.
Coach Edra refuses to take credit for last season’s success. He loved the dynamic of his coaching staff so much that he brought them all back. Jacob Faura, fresh from a breakout season with the Hoboken High School girl’s volleyball team, returns with new vigor. Patrick Padilla, the team’s strength and conditioning coach, has been nothing but amazing getting the team ready for a full season. Last but not least, Michal Kucza, the former Bayonne high school star who Coach Edra explains is his right hand man.
OUTLOOK: We expect NJCU will be near the top of the Skyline conference once again and may be in a position to get another auto entry into the NCAA D3 tournament. If all goes as planned, we could see them in the D3 top 20 by the end of the season.
If you score, we all score…
Other data, info, and links:
We expect NJCU to be open for crowds and fans to attend in Jersey City. They have a great gym and setup for teams to come watch D3 volleyball. The parking is a bit of a challenge, but the experience is worth it, especially for high school teams who want to see the college level in action. They also live stream the vast majority of their games and the link is shown below…
Here are some additional links on the NJCU program that can provide some further details for those thinking about attending…
Martin Chromulak will be transferring to Rutgers Newark for personal reasons.
Jonathan Andrews will be using the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the COVID season cancellation.