By Marc Raimondi
Melissa Medina got the best endorsement she could have asked for: one from her teammates.
About a month ago, a group of girls approached Cardozo coach Danny Scarola and pleaded with him to play Medina more. The junior middle hitter was going to be a big factor this season, but Scarola was unhappy with her passiveness.
“They really vouched for her,” the coach said. “I wanted to put her out there, but I wanted her to be more aggressive. They said, ‘Coach, she is aggressive, she wants to be out there.’ I wanted to give her a chance.”
Scarola has worked Medina in more, especially against teams with strong middles. The change paid huge dividends Sunday in No. 2 Cardozo’s 25-17, 25-21 win against No. 3 Midwood in the PSAL Class A girls’ volleyball semifinals at Hunter College. Medina had six blocks, including four to account for all of the Judges’ points during a key second-set stretch.
“This is like the perfect time,” Cardozo junior outside hitter Ashley Grubler said. “She stepped up when she had to.”
Medina didn’t have an easy task with the PSAL’s best middle, senior Shannon Appel, staring back at her from the other side of the net. But that timid girl who started the season has certainly disappeared. After a pair of service aces by Midwood freshman setter Elizabet Genis, Medina pounded down two straight blocks to give Cardozo (11-2) an 18-16 lead in the second set.
“I was very shy,” Medina said. “But now I call for the ball. I want to be in it. Before I would be like, ‘No, don’t put me in, don’t put me in.’ Now I’m just like, ‘Put me in. I want to play.’”
Cardozo will be playing No. 5 Susan Wagner, the team that shocked top-seed and three-time defending champion Francis Lewis, in the championship match Nov. 16 at Townsend Harris HS. Grubler said it was strange not playing the Patriots, the Judges’ chief rival, in the finals.
“We wanted to be the one to beat Lewis,” she said.
But first they had to beat Midwood (12-1). The Hornets were within 22-21 in the second set, before the Judges closed things out. Senior right side Helen Kim had a huge service ace and senior outside Martina Vaglia crushed a kill on match point to earn Cardozo a spot in the championship for the third time in four years.
“We lost six starters [from last year],” Scarola said. “The only person playing the same position right now is Ashley. Everybody else is new. You have to find a certain mix. It’s just a tremendous accomplishment.”
Grubler had 12 kills, Vaglia had eight kills and junior setter Jessica Lou had 18 assists for the Judges. But the difference, especially in that second set, was Medina.
“We know that she’s good and she played in club good,” said Grubler, who plays with Medina at Creole. “She knows she can do it, but sometimes she just gives up on herself. She can hit, she can do all that stuff. She’s kind of our best middle. I knew it. That’s why I wanted him to put her there.”