Secaucus turns to former standout Aciz to continue winning ways Former Reporter Athlete of the Year takes over volleyball program
Oct 09, 2007 | 2043 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
At the tender age of 24 and not that far removed from her high school playing days, Tiffany Aciz never imagined that she could return home and take over the storied volleyball program at Secaucus High School where she was only recently an All-State performer.

"I never thought I'd be a head coach at this point in my life," said Aciz, who was tabbed to replace Sheila Rivera as the head coach of the Patriots, after Rivera gave birth to a son earlier this year. "But when I was younger, I always thought I would become a coach. It's what I always wanted to do."

Aciz was a standout performer for the Patriots during her high school days, earning All-State honors in volleyball as a senior, while earning All-County honors in basketball and softball.

In 2001, Aciz had the distinction of being only the second female to ever capture The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Year honors. Now, the newspaper chain honors a male and a female athlete each year, but when Aciz earned the honor, there was only one award.

Incredibly, during Aciz' playing days, the Patriots won four NJSIAA Group I state titles, just a sliver of the incredible state and national-record 19 titles the school has captured over the years. The team's record during Aciz' stint with the Patriots? A mere 111-1. After her memorable days at Secaucus, Aciz went on to play volleyball at Montclair State University and became one of the best all-around performers in Red Hawk history as well. She still ranks among the top five in MSU history in practically every single volleyball statistical category.

But after graduation, Aciz wanted to teach and coach. She served as an assistant at Montclair State for one year, then worked at East Brunswick and even was an assistant coach at St. Peter's Prep, coaching the boys with the legendary Don Guide for one season.

When Rivera stepped down, it was only natural that Aciz (pronounced like the appropriate volleyball term, aces) should come home to Secaucus.

"It was great to be able to come back," Aciz said. "I am so happy to get the opportunity to coach where I played. I understand the history and the tradition here. I know what it was like to go through it. I wanted to make sure that we kept it going, kept the program going strong. I was only in their shoes a few years ago, so I can relate to them and I think they can relate to me. Because I was once one of them."

Aciz knew that she was walking into a tough situation, coaching a program that was first nurtured by Aciz' former coach Maria Nolan and then continued by Rivera, who guided the Patriots to consecutive Group I state titles the last two seasons.

"Mrs. Nolan was my coach when I was here and I played under Sheila when I was on JV," Aciz said. "All I've learned about volleyball, I've learned from them. I'm just going to try to replicate what I was taught. They taught me, so now I'm teaching it to the players we have now."

If Aciz was a total outsider taking over the Secaucus program, perhaps the transition would have been more difficult.

"But Secaucus is a small town and everyone knows everyone," Aciz said. "I already knew some of them."

For example, Aciz played with Diana Totaro, who is the older sister of current senior Jenna, a three-sport standout in the same fashion as Aciz.

"I've known Jenna since she was a little girl," Aciz said. "It's knowing people like Jenna that made the transition a little easier. It first went from Coach Nolan to Sheila and now to me. They all know that I've been through it like they've been going through it."

There was only one slight obstacle. The Patriots started off the season losing matches to Wood-Ridge and Midland Park, the school that Secaucus defeated in last year's Group I state final.

In her first two matches as a head coach, Aciz suffered more losses than she did as a high school volleyball player for her entire career.

"But I expected to start off slow," Aciz said. "I wasn't concerned with the losses. You learn from experience every time you lose. I knew we were going to get better. We adjusted some things and moved forward. I worried only about the next game. I didn't get caught up in everything."

Aciz also wasn't concerned about the pressure of inheriting a team that won a state championship last year, although that team lost All-State performer Cory Roesing, a fellow Reporter Athlete of the Year like Aciz, and Kristen Bronowich to graduation. "We started off 0-2," Aciz said. "That was fine. We regrouped and now we've won six in a row."

Making it just like old times for Secaucus volleyball, with a familiar face and name now calling the shots.

Leading the way this year is Totaro, who is the team's outside hitter and setter. "She's just a great athlete," Aciz said. "She's very coachable and her experience on the court shows."

Junior Monica Dempsey is also a key returnee from last year. Dempsey is also an outside hitter.

"Monica is a smart volleyball player with great ball control," Aciz said. "She can put it where she wants it."

Elise Lennon is a senior middle hitter.

"Elise is having a great year," Aciz said. "She's a very strong server and she's a positive leader on the court."

Senior Nicole Waters also returns from last year's team. Nicole is an outside hitter as well.

"She's a really good off-setter and gives us good stability," Aciz said.

The last senior is senior libero Michelle Mitchell, who has been asked to concentrate on defense for the good of the team.

"She's come up strong this year and doing a great job in the back row," Aciz said.

The team starts two freshmen _ and both have the last name of Waters, giving the Patriots three key players with the same last name. Alexis Waters is the younger sister of Nicole and she plays opposite her sister on the court.

"She's a real good server and is great on defense," Aciz said of Alexis Waters.

Shannon Waters is another freshman and she's a cousin to the other two. Shannon is a middle hitter with the Patriots.

"She's a tremendous athlete who jumps well and is agile," Aciz said. "She's also aggressive around the ball. I think she's just a natural born athlete."

Just like the new head coach, who was once the best all-around athlete, male or female, in Hudson County.

"It wasn't that long ago," Aciz laughed. "I've been having so much fun. I don't think I want them to have a sense of where I was and what I did. But I do want them to enjoy the same things that I did when I played here. I want them to experience the same thrill." Perhaps the Patriots are well on their way, thanks to the new coach who has a fitting last name. She's all aces and she's all Aciz.

--Jim Hague
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