When Milan Spellman entered the halls of Hudson Catholic High School a little more than two years ago, she didn’t know if she wanted to participate in sports.
Because she’s relatively tall at 5-foot-11, someone suggested that she should give volleyball a try.
“I never played before,” Spellman said. “I didn’t know anything about volleyball. I decided to give it a shot. It was something new. It didn’t hurt to give it a try. I knew the team and the coaching staff were good. I figured the coaches could teach me the basics.”
Head coach Fernando Colon also didn’t know whether Spellman would develop into an even serviceable player.
“She never played before, so I didn’t know what to expect,” Colon said. “I just knew she was willing to work hard.”
That’s what Spellman did. Even though there were some trying times in the beginning.
“At first, I wondered if I did the right thing,” Spellman said. “I asked myself, ‘What did I get myself into?’ But then I got to know the girls and that helped. I learned the rules and knew them by the time of tryouts. As soon as I played a little, I fell in love with the sport. I figured that over time, I would get used to it.”
Spellman decided to turn herself into the best volleyball player she could be. She joined two off-season club volleyball teams. She went to clinics to learn how to play better. She went to the Newark YMCA to work with a personal trainer. She lifted weights. She would hit balls over and over and over again.
“Coach Eddie Grant [from the Newark YMCA] was very helpful with teaching me the necessary fundamentals,” Spellman said. “He taught me how to properly pass. I knew I needed to be versatile as a volleyball player. I wanted to be able to do everything.”
Colon said that the success of the Hudson Catholic program also served as a motivation.
“I think what we were doing pushed Milan,” Colon said. “It pushed her to get better. The first time we won the county championship, she wanted to play a bigger role with the team. I used to stick around and watch the JV [junior varsity] practices and noticed that she was always working hard. I told my assistant coaches that if she puts in the work, she could become a special player one day.”
There was a tremendous transformation in Spellman from her freshman year to her sophomore year.
“She developed quickly,” Colon said. “She’s a good leaper. She’s strong. She had a good summer of strength and conditioning and that helped her. She’s a powerful hitter who hits the ball with authority.”
Spellman was the middle hitter on the Hawk team that captured the Hudson County Tournament for a second straight year in 2016.
“I started to score more and Coach [Colon] was able to rely on me a little more,” Spellman said.
But Spellman was poised for an even better campaign in 2017.
“I really worked at it,” Spellman said. “I worked on my accuracy and consistency. I wanted to be the best player I could be.”
This year, the junior Spellman has blossomed into one of the best net players in the entire state. The Hawks have been ranked among the state’s best all season and are currently ranked No. 2 in New Jersey.
Last week, Spellman led the Hawks to three huge victories. She collected seven kills against Fair Lawn, seven kills against Snyder, which was ranked as the No. 2 team in Hudson County, and six kills against Dickinson. She had a hitting average of .582 for the week, which is a tremendous percentage of successful hits.
“She’s been the most consistent hitter we have,” Colon said. “She’s helped us tremendously to get the No. 2 ranking in the state. She’s stepped up her game to become one of the best hitters in the state.”
Spellman currently ranks 16th in the state in total kills.
For her efforts, Spellman has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Colon said that he is surprised with how far Spellman has come in just three years of playing volleyball.
“I didn’t think her development would be so rapid,” Colon said. “You would never think she’s playing for such a short time. She’s been a pleasant surprise. I’m very happy with what she’s what she’s done. Her hard work is paying off.”
A Jersey City native and a graduate of P.S. 37 Rafael Cordero School downtown Jersey City, Spellman is amazed with the way she’s morphed into a superstar.
“I definitely didn’t think this could happen,” Spellman said. “It’s crazy. It’s hard to believe. It’s so exciting. I know my whole team felt like this could happen.”
Colon said that his star player arrived in a recent tournament in Phoenix, where Spellman shined, especially against Walton of Georgia, ranked as the No. 1 team in the entire nation.
“She held her own,” Colon said. “She did well. She definitely made a name for herself with the colleges. A lot of schools asked about her.”
Spellman credits her mother, Jennifer McDaniels, for taking the time to drive Spellman to the various camps and clinics around the state, as well as the club volleyball practice sessions.
“I owe a whole lot of the credit to my Mom,” Spellman said. “She’s my everything.”
Spellman said that she’s named after the city in Italy and not the Disney movie.
She is also an excellent student with a 3.8 grade point average. She wants to major in communications in college, but doesn’t know what school she wants to attend yet. After all, she’s still only a junior.
The Hawks will begin their two-year defense of the Hudson County Tournament title and will look to make it a “three-peat” beginning this weekend.
“I’m very happy with the way she’s developed into a player,” Colon said. “She’s so much of a role model that we made her a team captain. All the younger girls look up to her. She’s such a good role model for the younger players. She’s a great example of what hard work will do.”
So it’s safe to say that Spellman made the right choice in joining the volleyball team. She has become one of the very best players in New Jersey.
“That part is wild,” Spellman said. “I never thought it could happen. When I joined the team, I just wanted to belong. All this is something I never would have thought could happen to me.”
Believe it. This girl’s for real. – Jim Hague.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.