SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- Whether she's on the volleyball court, the classroom, or involved in the community, Adrienne Caceda excels at a very high level. The rising senior at Union Catholic, one of the top returning volleyball players in the state, is the full package and epitomizes what a student-athlete is all about.
Caceda helped continue the tradition of excellence for the Vikings' volleyball program last season. She was a big reason why Union Catholic finished the season with a 30-2 record, a final ranking of No. 2 in the state, the best in school history. Her play helped the Vikings capture the Union County, Union County Conference, and State Sectional titles, and earn a berth in the State Non-Public Championship match for the second straight year.
Caceda registered 310 assists, 207 service points, 106 digs,and 29 aces. She recorded 16 games with double digits assists, and eight games with 10 or more service points. Her strong season earned Caceda a spot on the Watchung Division Honorable Mention All-Star team last year.
Off the court, Caceda is just as impressive. She's an Honor Roll student, a member of the National Honor Society, the Student Ambassador program, the Big Sister program, the Crayon Club, French Club, and Imagine Grief Education program. Because of her great presence on and off the court, Union Catholic Head Coach Nancy Saggio has chosen Caceda to be a captain on the team for the upcoming season, which is something that she had dreamed of.
"I've been looking forward to being a captain since I started varsity,'' said Caeda, a member of the varsity since her sophomore year. "It's a great honor that I share with my co-captains Sophia Herrera, Katelyn Salvador, and Aliyah Thomas. I am super excited about this upcoming season and balancing hard work and having fun"
"I want to create an environment where the younger players can feel comfortable reaching out to us, helping them improve their skills and work as a team," she added. "I want to be a good role model and continue the winning legacy that the prior years have left.''
Caceda got hooked on volleyball six years ago.
"I started playing volleyball in sixth grade when my school (Holy Spirit in Union) started the program,'' said Caceda. "It was the first time I was introduced to it and fell in love with it.''
A couple of years later, Caeda started playing club volleyball year-round with the Central Jersey Volleyball Academy, and this past season she gained some valuable experience as an assistant coach for her club team..
."This past club season, my coach asked me to be his interning assistant coach for the 15-and-under National team,'' said Caceda, who lives in Union. "It helped me understand the challenges of being a coach, and it felt good to see the players applying what they learned.''
Caceda stayed active during the quarantine, refusing to allow it to slow her down.
"My mom bought me a rebound trainer, and I worked with that a lot at the beginning of the quarantine. Now my club is doing camps, so I have been attending position-specific practices. I started playing beach volleyball to gain more mobility. I also have been getting in shape with workouts on YouTube like Chloe Ting. I found myself not being able to sit still throughout the quarantine. I hate just sitting in one place for more than 30 minutes.''
Caceda is one of those rare players, whose versatility allows her to play any position on the court.
"Her greatest strengths are her amazing athletic ability and ability to learn quickly,'' said Saggio, a member of UC's Hall of Fame. " She was an outside hitter and libero for two years, and when I needed a setter last year we made her into one within two months. And she did a great job.''
Caceda prides herself on being a team-first player, able to contribute wherever she is needed.
"I started as an outside hitter, but Coach Pam (Sawicki) suggested I'd try being libero,'' said Caceda. "I guess she saw potential in me. "I can't decide (on her favorite position) between a setter or a libero. Both have different responsibilities and give me different emotions. As a libero, you have to run defense and be prepared for tough hits. Getting a dig from a strong hitter from the opposing team is empowering. As a setter, you control the ball and organize the plays. Setting the ball to the right side hitter when they block the middle and deceiving them gives me an edge. I guess I'm proud to say I'm a setter with defensive skills.''
A relentless work ethic has also enabled Caceda to raise the level of her play each year.
"I am not sure if I have the special talent to become an elite player, but I put in the effort to become one,'' said Caceda. "I genuinely enjoy playing volleyball, love the feeling I have when I step on the court. I look for any opportunity to play volleyball and work hard to improve my skills.
Caceda maintains a simple and effective approach when she's on the court.
"Ball over body no matter the bruises,'' said Caceda. "The ball doesn't drop. I developed over this past season to have a dig or die mentality. This is a game we played in Coach Saggio's practices, where we had to dig the ball or lose our points. It would get the best of our competitive side. My mental toughness has improved over the years; I play point by point, which helps me when it's a tight game.
What does Caceda love the most about playing volleyball?
"I love the thrill of getting the point after a long rally and the adrenaline I get from an unexpected save,'' said Caceda. "The connection I have with my hitters, seeing them get the kill, and knowing that I was a part of that motivates me. I love being part of the team; I've created great friendships that I hope to maintain for a long time. Volleyball is not a one-player game; everyone contributes to every point we get. We all need each other to succeed.
Caceda is determined to lead UC to another great season.
"We will definitely work hard to repeat winning county, conference, and sectional titles. Our goal, though, is to be state champs. We have strong returning players such as our powerful hitter Sophia Herrera who can also play defense. Katelyn Salvador, who is returning from an injury, coming back stronger, bringing her defensive and setting skills. Aliyah Thomas, whose blocks and middle attacks guarantee kills. Brianna Lamberty's killer serves, and defensive skills are vital to the team. Caroline Evans and Emma Prati will surely not disappoint us. This is only part of the team; we will welcome the rest of the girls this fall.''
Lots of great players graduated from Union Catholic, including Olivia Szyszkiewicz, Alex Kwasnik, Najlaa Williams, Grace Kane, and Abbey Ortiz. But Caceda is confident the Vikings will overcome those losses.
"Those are pretty big shoes to fill, and we hope that we can do everything they achieved and more,'' said Caceda. "The team will definitely miss them and the confidence they brought on the court. This year's team has a good connection inside and outside the court, we feel comfortable to hold each other accountable and have the skills to back it up. I feel confident that we will give our all and fight for each point like it's the last.''
Playing for UC and Coach Saggio is something that Caceda will never forget.
"Playing volleyball at UC has brought me so many great memories and created amazing friendships I hope will last a lifetime,'' said Caceda. " Coach Sag's toughness might seem intimidating, and she pushes you to play the best of your ability, but it's only because she cares. She's very approachable, gives good advice, and I value her opinion. She has taught me to be a mentally tough player and versatile. She and Coach Pam make a great team, and I want our team to make them proud.''
Caceda loves being a student at UC, and said she always knew UC was the perfect fit for her.
"UC was my first choice when choosing schools,'' said Caceda, who hopes to play volleyball in college and plans to double major in mathematics and computer science "I felt the sense of community at the open house. UC quickly adapted during the quarantine. Other schools turned to UC because of our ability to teach virtually. It's convenient to be able to access my textbooks and notebooks on my laptop. The administration tries to make the best out of every situation, such as graduation and keeping us involved during this time.''