Player of the year: When Colonia started its varsity volleyball program in 2007, coach Tom Hennessy, who was coaching JV at the time, didn’t realize the foundation of his program was a young freshman who sat the bench.
Uzoamaka Ibeh had a ton of athletic ability, but she never played volleyball before high school.
It wasn’t until Ibeh took the court in the Watchung Hills Tournament towards the end of her freshman year when Hennessy took notice.
He knew he had a can’t-miss player when he watched her reach over the net to kill the ball.
Hennessey knew he had to get her in the lineup next year.
From there, Ibeh continued to progress and broke through this year, leading Colonia to a 27-2 record and a Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament championship in its first year as a member of the conference.
The 5-11 Ibeh registered 227 kills, 69 blocks, 62 service points, 18 aces and 16 digs. Her numbers rose each year and she finished her career with 504 kills and 150 blocks.
"She has meant everything to this team," Hennessy said. "We wouldn’t be where we are without her. She’s talented and one of the most athletic students I’ve ever coached. She holds herself very well off the court and always has a smile on her face.
"We built this program around her."
Ibeh comes from a family of athletes and has 11 brothers and sisters. Her older brother, Chinedu, 27, was in a similar situation as her as a basketball player, but didn’t know how to showcase his ability to college recruiters and didn’t get much help.
Chinedu didn’t want the same thing to happen to his sister, so he got her involved with The Complete Athlete traveling team.
There was still a learning process that Ibeh had to go through, but it all came together over the summer.
Her TCA team was playing a tournament against tough competition, yet Ibeh still held her own and the coach from Virginia Commonwealth University offered her a scholarship.
"I was pretty clueless playing in the game my freshman year and I knew I had a lot to learn," said Ibeh, who will play for VCU next fall. "Even when I was playing on the national team, I was still learning. It wasn’t until the VCU coach offered me a scholarship at a tournament when I realized I had a future in this."
It may have taken until the summer for Ibeh to see how good she stacks up against national competition, but the best is still yet to come. -- BY CHARLES GUTHRIE
Team and coach of the year: Uzie Ibeh smashed seven kills and blocked four shots to propel Colonia to its first Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament championship in its first year of eligibility, 2-0 over Mother Seton.
Independence Jorgi (six kills, two blocks) and Melissa Rustemeyer (five kills) also contributed to the victory.
"I’m a hard-working coach and the attitude is rubbing off on them," said Tom Hennessy, who founded the program, but has coached club volleyball since 1995.
"Winning the GMC is a compliment to the girls," said Hennessy, the Middlesex County Coach of the Year. "They’ve been feeding off each other. If you don’t have chemistry, things can backfire on you. They were very unselfish all season long."
Other standouts this season for Colonia included libero Lia Lumauig, setters Angelica Cuzzola, Danielle Sica and Kara O’Halloran, and defensive specialist Shawna Reider.