A feat achieved only six other times in Montclair State University volleyball history. Graduate student outside hitter Leah Higgins became the seventh volleyball player ever to reach 1,000 career kills.
It was a night to remember on Oct. 4 for Higgins and the team as she hit this milestone in a 3-0 sweep victory over New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) rivals New Jersey City University (NJCU). Higgins reached 1,000 in the first set to put the Red Hawks up 24-16.
It came as quite a surprise as Higgins wasn’t even aware of that kill being number 1,000.
“I honestly didn’t know I got it in the moment,” Higgins said. “The board didn’t change. I knew I needed six but it only said five. The first set ended and I was like, ‘Alright next set, I’m going to get it, first kill.’ Then [sports information coordinator] Pat [Duffy] was like, ‘[Higgins], 1,000th kill.’ I was like, ‘Oh cool, I did it!’”
Once the game ended, Higgins was able to take it all in and celebrate what she had finally accomplished. Her parents presented her with a bouquet of flowers and head coach Eddie Stawinski handed her a ball with her name and “1,000 kills” written on it.
“It was just all smiles, all positive,” Higgins said. “It was really nice to see my parents. I think my mom was more excited than I was, she had the time of her life that night. It felt just overwhelmingly good.”
Stawinski was very proud to see Higgins achieve this milestone and was happy to share the moment with her.
“I’m very happy for her because of all the hard work that she has put in for four and a half years,” Stawinski said. “I know it’s an individual goal that she had in mind and when an athlete is able to accomplish that, I think it’s only seven in our program, that’s obviously a very good individual achievement that I’m very happy we’re going to see her name there for years to come.”
Higgins isn’t the only player on the team to reach this milestone. Carly Waterman, a graduate student outside hitter, reached the 1,000 career kills mark last season for the Red Hawks. The fact that this program has two players who accomplished such a feat is truly incredible.
Waterman is happy to share the experience with her long-time teammate.
“It’s awesome,” Waterman said. “I think it shows something about our program here that, you have two [graduate students] coming back for a fifth year, in the same position being able to hit that milestone. I think it shows a lot for Montclair [State] volleyball and that we’ve come a long way since we’ve started.”
Stawinski thinks these accomplishments are just results of what the program is capable of and the types of players they’ve brought to Montclair State.
“It’s awesome because it just shows the type of player that we’ve been able to bring into our program over the years and shows what they’ve done off the court, on the court and their leadership skills,” Stawinski said. “Having two players back to back get those achievements is obviously really rewarding as a coach and I’m very happy to see them accomplish this year after year. It’s really rewarding to see where the program started 12 years ago and where it is now.”
Higgins came into the season with a total of 803 kills entering her fifth year. After she decided to come back, she had her sights set on reaching 1,000.
“When I was deciding last year if I was coming back for a fifth year or not, because of the shortened [coronavirus (COVID-19)] year, I would’ve gotten it I feel,” Higgins said. “That’s what I was working for, and I knew I was capable of it. I’m happy I did it.”
At the start of each season, Higgins likes to set goals for herself. In her freshman year, she received an honorable mention for the All-NJAC. The next year she told herself she wanted to get the All-NJAC Second Team achievement, which she did.
In her junior year, she was able to keep improving and got selected for First Team All-NJAC and received another Second Team recognition her senior year. Her college career has exemplified nothing but greatness as she’s now put herself in the history books.
“I set that goal, and then the next year I can go that much further,” Higgins said. “I knew I had to get about 250 kills each year to get that thousand and I was like, ‘I could do that.’”
With all that she’s accomplished in her college career, Higgins still has one goal in mind that she wants to hit, and that’s winning the NJAC Tournament.
“We’ve been close so many times,” Higgins said. “Every year that I’ve been here we’ve gone to the playoffs and we’ve been in the semi-finals. That’s the biggest goal that we want. Going to the NCAA Tournament, that’d be awesome, it’d be fun.”
With the resume that Higgins brings to the team and with her experience, the Red Hawks have a chance at making it far. It’s a tough road ahead but will be a fun rest of the season to watch for Higgins and the volleyball team.