Chino Anukwuem could write quite an essay about what she did on her summer vacation. But like her recent 15th birthday, Anukwuem would rather keep it quiet – and let her actions speak for her.

One of four sophomores stepping up to Hanover Park’s varsity volleyball team this fall, Anukwuem brings experience far beyond her years. A converted soccer player who only tried intramural volleyball in middle school, Anukwuem has already been invited to train with USA Volleyball’s select A-1 high performance team in Florida.

Anukwuem tried out in Peekskill, N.Y., in March, and was initially invited to the A-2 program in Colorado Springs, but a few days later she received an e-mail calling her to Florida for A-1. She was the only girl from the Garden Empire Volleyball Association among the 55 selected for the 10-day program, which combined five days of skill building and five days of game play.

“I thought I was terrible,” said Anukwuem, a 6-foot middle hitter who tried out at the suggestion of her club coach, John Titus, a Parsippany resident who is also the head coach at Caldwell College.

“It’s my first year, and people had been playing since they were young. I was so nervous. … When we were on teams, I didn’t have to prove anything. Everything became easier.”

Anukwuem has already made an impression on the Hornets, though she’ll have to sit out until Oct. 7 after transferring from Morris Catholic last November. She played both in the middle and outside during preseason, refining her footwork and working on her serve-receive.

“Her hits, you can’t complain,” senior middle hitter Lauren Pereira said. “Even though she has more experience than the other girls, she’s definitely open to learning. … She’s got height, which our team is lacking, and her experience definitely helps.”

After losing seven seniors to graduation, the small returning class is stepping up to fill in the leadership gap. The Hornets hosted a Gold Medal Squared camp for the fifth year in a row, and went right into tryouts.

“It’s a great team-building week, a skill-building week,” Hanover Park coach Megan Wilson said. “The amount of potential (Anukwuem) has is scary. Just like everyone else on the team, they all need fine-tuning. They need to perfect the fundamentals we’re going to need every day.”

Junior setter Sam Melillo will be taking a big step up from JV this fall. Sophomores Nicole Petrovich, Alex Cosenzo and Nicole Rothenberger – a trio of softball players who made it to the NJSIAA Group II final last spring – are all expected to get significant playing time as well. Hanover Park coach Megan Wilson has used a big sister-little sister program to help blend the newcomers, as well as the JV. The big sisters give pointers to their less experienced little sisters, “giving them one person to look to on the varsity team,” according to senior opposite Nicole Infantes. They exchange treats before matches, and JV girls will also make posters for their big sister on Senior Night. The whole Hornets team also had a “bonding breakfast” at The Original Pancake House in Whippany.

“We clicked at that breakfast, and it’s been helping on the court,” Infantes said. “It makes a better environment to give tips and give pointers, so no one gets mad if someone makes a mistake. … Our dynamic off the court has really helped us to come together on the court.”


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