The Immaculate Conception girls volleyball team is shooting for the moon this season.

The Lions were 12-2 at the end of last week after defeating North Star Academy in a double-header, one a regular-season matchup and the other an Essex County Tournament contest; they won both matches, 2-0, at home on Saturday, Oct. 8.

"Our goal this season is to win," said Immaculate head coach Precious Castanon, whose assistant coach is Connellsen Nwangwu. "We want to win counties, then overall states, which may be a hard and overlooked statement, but hard work pays off one way or another."

In terms of the Essex County Tournament, Immaculate is the underdog of underdogs as the 20th seed. The Lions, after defeating 45th-seeded North Star, will travel to 13th-seeded Nutley on Oct. 13 in the second preliminary round. A win over Nutley would send the Lions to fourth-seeded Mount St. Dominic in the first round on Saturday, Oct 15.

Immaculate is also close to securing the Super Essex Conference Independence Division title. The Lions have already swept their nearest competitor, Arts. They won 2-1 at Arts on Sept. 8 then took care of Arts at home, 2-0, on Sept. 24.

Immaculate players who are back this year include seniors Kayla Martinez and Ariel Victor and juniors Jordan Hunter, Imani Shakur, Gabriel Fraser, Jasmine Taylor and Keiana Eaddy.

The top offensive players are Shakur and sophomore Nila Giroud.

Shakur chipped in across the board in the ECT victory over North Star with two kills, three blocks, two digs and four assists. 

"She is our backbone to the team," Castanon said. "She’s gonna try to get every ball up every time, and she is a student of the game, understanding the right play and the wrong play."  

Junior Jordan Hunter is one of Immaculate’s top returning players. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
Junior Jordan Hunter is one of Immaculate’s top returning players. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)

Giroud is possibly the top newcomer to the Lions roster in 2023. She had four kills, four blocks and five assists in the 25-12, 25-5 win over North Star Academy in the ECT tournament matchup on Saturday.

"Her main sport is basketball, but she tried volleyball this year and she loves it," Castanon said. "She plays a big role on the team and is one of our best hitters and blockers, with a natural feel for the game. Nila also has a great serve."

The other top players back this season are Hunter and Fraser.

Hunter is one of the top middle blockers and hitters for Immaculate,and has other assets as well. 

"She has a nice serve and a great touch,” the coach said. “She is a very consistent player who is going to give you effort and makes good plays throughout the game." 

Fraser is the team's libero and has the knack to be at the right place on the floor.

"If a ball is hard to get, she’s giving it her all to get it up," Castanon said. "Most of her passes are straight to the setter spot that makes it very easy to get a good play through her first touch."

The coach said about her team: “Our strengths are that we are willing to learn and willing to do the things we have to do to get better no matter what." 

She added that what her squad needs to do is not let a bad stretch in a game bring it down. 

"We need to work on playing through adversity, like when something isn’t going right we are able to bounce back and fix the mistake rather than argue about it," Castanon said.