By Joseph Staszewski
A junior-heavy Benjamin Cardozo team fell two wins shy of a volleyball city title last season. The bulk of the squad is back and plans on finishing the job.
“Everyone wants to win this year because we are all leaving,” senior setter Jessica Yin said.
The Judges feature nine seniors on their roster this season, including a new addition in 5-foot-11 transfer Anja Malesevic from Serbia. Head Coach Dan Scarola understands he has a talented bunch, but isn’t going to dub them city title-ready just yet.
“We have to put it all together,” he said. “We have to see what we have here, find that second hitter. We have to be able to play good defense and just put that whole package together.”
The addition of Malesevic, an outside hitter, is a key part to that package for Cardozo, which lost to Bronx Science in last year’s PSAL Class A semifinals. The Judges saw star hitter Alexis Hamilton move back to California after her freshman season to seek better competition, according to Scarola. Malesevic gave them an immediate, more polished replacement.
She dominated in a 25-16, 25-22, 25-20 non-league win over Poly Prep last week. Malesevic displayed plenty of hitting power, smarts to know where to place the ball each time and a good, all-around skill set.
“Once she started playing we were just like, ‘Whoa, she’s great,’” Yin said.
Scarola is still looking for a second consistent weapon out of a strong group of hitters that includes middles Simaran Wilson and Alyssa McAdams and Whitney Young on the outside. He thinks right now Young could be the one to break out because of her athleticism, and so do her teammates.
“She’s improved so much,” senior libero Rachel Ng said.
So has Yin in the coach’s mind. She was one of the top setters in the city last season, but has gotten much smarter playing the position. Yin knows who should be getting past the ball and is less concerned with a balanced attack.
“Last year it was let me mix it up and see how many people I can set, not realizing you have to put the emphasis on the best hitters that have the hot hand at that moment. She is starting to realize that and do that now.”
The Judges as a whole realize the opportunity in front of them. They want to bring home the school’s second city title in the last three years.
“We are pushing ourselves to try to make it,” Ng said.