By Marc Raimondi
There’s a bulletin board for volleyball at Cardozo High School. On the right side is mementos from the boys team and the left has pin-ups for the girls.
There’s a bit of a discrepancy in the amount of things on either side, though. The boys have photos, newspaper articles and certificates from two straight PSAL city championships. All the girls have is a small collage one of the players made in her art class.
“[The girls] got quite upset about that,” said Danny Scarola, who coaches both teams. “I told them, ‘It’s not personal.’ But they hope to get some pictures of their own this year.”
It isn’t like Cardozo’s girls’ volleyball program isn’t good. In fact, it actually trumped the boys before 2008. Scarola went to his first city title match with the ladies in 2007 and the Judges are typically among the PSAL’s elite on the girls’ side.
Last year was a rebuilding one, though. Cardozo went 6-4 in Queens A6, the most losses Scarola has suffered on the girls’ side, and fell to McKee/Staten Island Tech in the second round of the city playoffs.
But all of that youth has grown up now and the Judges could be right among the city’s top title contenders in 2009. Cardozo players think they could re-emerge as a threat before people even realize it.
“Our motto this year is ‘expect the unexpected,’” sophomore Ashley Grubler said.
Much of what Scarola wants to do starts with Grubler. The six-foot outside hitter is a year older, stronger and more skilled, especially after playing club ball in the offseason. She’s more advanced than her sister, Mallory, who played on Cardozo’s PSAL runner-up team in 2007, and was one of the best players in the city.
“Now she’s swinging,” Scarola said. “Last year, she would just hit the ball. I think by her senior year she’ll be one of the best players in New York City.”
The other outside will be Tina Tian, who also has plenty of experience. Cardozo also has some size in the middle. Jane Oh and Esther Park, who has emerged as a versatile threat, are both 5-foot-10. Goldie Choi, a polished setter, will run the offense and Susan Kang, the lone remaining starter from that 2007 team, will be the Judges’ libero once again. Helen Kim, despite her 5-foot-1 size, is a solid right side.
Scarola said the offense will be more high-powered, not “vanilla” like last year. What he wants more than anything is strong passing and defense.
“I need people to be hungry on defense,” the coach said. “Last year that didn’t happen.”
Things seem to be different now and Grubler agreed, saying the Judges are “more of a team.” The bulletin board has been influential, too.
“We’re Cardozo,” Scarola said. “We expect more from ourselves.”
The Judges could usurp Bayside as the division’s second best team behind Francis Lewis. The Commodores had a renaissance last year, going 7-3 and earning the No. 4 seed in the playoffs — an all-time high. But they lost almost everyone to graduation, including current Hunter College players Karolina Krauze and Mia Alexis De Claro, and could have an uneven season. Townsend Harris could also contend in Queens 6A.
Grover Cleveland won the division last year, but lost star hitters Joanna Kaminska and Roxy Filipchak to graduation.
Newcomers, a tradition powerhouse, is struggling this season with numbers due to the girls’ soccer season change.
Newtown, which returns Luverie Lumbera, is a chic pick to win it based on past success: The Pioneers won two PSAL titles within the last decade and with Coach Bub Kunkel’s prowess.
“Bob is one of the most underrated coaches in the city,” Scarola said. “Every year he takes eight girls and makes them into volleyball players.”
Forest Hills shared the division title with Flushing last year, but graduated almost all of its top players and longtime Coach Mitch Gise retired. In his place is Gisele Ruiz, the former Townsend Harris JV coach, and an alum of Kunkel’s program at Newtown.
Flushing returns a few key pieces, including Maria Santos, and Bryant, which upset Bronx Science in last year’s first round, is always solid.
Reach Marc Raimondi at email@example.com.