There was plenty of intrigue in New York City boys’ volleyball this season – until the end of the season.
The PSAL seemed to be wide open, with teams like Midwood, Brooklyn Tech, New Utrecht, Kennedy, McKee/Staten Island Tech and Walton perhaps being able to challenge defending champion Cardozo for the city title. But, in the end, the Judges were victorious again.
In the CHSAA, Xaverian was the top seed heading into the playoffs, courtesy of a last-season win against Regis. But it was the Raiders who prevailed over the Clippers in the city title match. All in all, it was a year of many storylines and excellent individual performances.
All-City Boys’ Volleyball
Player Of The Year
OH Jonah Park, Brooklyn Tech: Without Park, Brooklyn Tech is a playoff team – maybe. With him? The Engineers advanced all the way to the PSAL semifinals, where they fell to eventual champion Cardozo. Park orchestrated it all – from giving setter Adrian Liang confidence to getting every single big kill in the postseason.
Park was just a junior, but coach Noreen Begley depended on him as one of her captains. He was really the team’s undisputed leader and most experienced player and it shone through many times. In the regular season, Park had 112 kills, 19 digs, 10 blocks and 35 aces in 12 matches as the Engineers went 12-0 in Brooklyn XII. He stepped it up further in the playoffs. Park had 52 kills, 25 digs and seven blocks in four matches. With him returning, Brooklyn Tech should be a city title favorite.
All-City Boys’ Volleyball
Coach Of The Year
Omar Vargas, Brandeis: No coach did as much with as little as Vargas. His Brandeis players had almost no volleyball experience before he began coaching them. And somehow Vargas was able to guide the Bulldogs to one of the most shocking upsets in PSAL playoffs recent memory. No. 18 Brandeis beat No. 2 Midwood in the second round after beating Newcomers in a three-set thriller in the first round. The Bulldogs would fall in the quarters to McKee/Staten Island Tech, but they did their damage.
If you’re looking for the perfect example as to why Vargas is Coach of the Year, look no further than Brandeis middle Kern Griffith. He never played volleyball before this season, yet became a force to be reckoned with at the net. Vargas, who was inducted into the CCNY athletics hall of fame the night of the Midwood upset, literally taught him everything he knew.
All-City First Team
OH Mateusz Borek, Midwood: Pound for pound, there might not have been a more talented player in New York City. Borek excelled in every aspect of volleyball. He jumped out of the gym, had a powerful swing and played tremendous defense. Midwood was shocked in the second round of the PSAL playoffs by Brandeis, but through no fault of Borek.
OH Arturo Cabrera, John F. Kennedy: When Kennedy lost to Walton late in the regular season, its first league defeat since 2001, the Knights could have easily folded. But Cabrera, the team’s captain, wouldn’t let that happen. The senior, who will play at York College next season, helped JFK beat Walton twice a week later – in the regular season and a tournament. The Knights shared the division title, but they were the last team from the Bronx remaining, as usual. Cabrera was a big reason why.
MH Albert Chi, McKee/Staten Island Tech: As far as middles go, there weren’t many as versatile and athletic as Chi. He wasn’t just a blocking machine or a one-dimensional offensive player. He had the ability to do a little bit of everything well – especially in the playoffs. Chi, like his team, didn’t have a banner regular season. But the junior stepped up his game in the postseason and helped lead MSIT to the PSAL city championship match.
OH Todd Gaugler, Cardozo: In many ways, Gaugler was the face of PSAL boys’ volleyball. He was a key ingredient to Cardozo’s last two city championships. Gaugler was always there to make a spectacular kill or block. His power was just about unmatched on the outside and he carried the Judges at time in the playoffs.
OH Bonjun Koo, Cardozo: Koo was a question mark coming into this season. Could he make the transition from role player to a star on the city’s best team? The answer was a resounding yes. The senior didn’t just help lead Cardozo’s attack, he did all the little things, too, from playing defense to being a leader off the court. Coach Danny Scarola said Koo was absolutely indispensable to the Judges’ second straight city title run.
MH Braien Otsla, New Utrecht: A relative unknown last season on a middling team, Otsla emerged as one of the best players in New York City in 2009. The senior helped lift New Utrecht to the PSAL quarterfinals for the first time in awhile and, when on, was one of the most dominant middles around. New Utrecht has had talent the last few seasons, but when Otsla hit his stride he made the Utes a city title contender.
All-City Second Team
OH Piotrek Borkowski, Grover Cleveland: There was a lot asked of Borkowski this season after Cleveland was the PSAL city runner-up in 2008. The junior not only had to switch from setter to outside hitter, but he also had to step up as the Tigers’ leader as their most experienced player. Cleveland had some trying times, but not because of Borkowski, who was one of the most versatile threats in the city.
L Kevin Ha, Cardozo: Bonjun Koo and Todd Gaugler got the most headlines as Cardozo’s powerful offensive players. But in terms of value to the Judges, Ha was right up there. The junior spurned a chance to play outside hitter to stay at libero and shore up the team’s defense, a major key in its run to a second straight city title. Ha will get his chance next season; the Judges will be his team then.
OH Carlos Jimenez, Walton: Jimenez played volleyball as if it were a contact sport. At least, he seemed to hope it was. The big, strong, physical junior was just a nightmare for opposing defenses, most of which had absolutely no answer for him. Jimenez helped lead the Wildcats to their best season ever – a No. 4 seed in the playoffs and a run to the PSAL quarterfinals. Next season, with even more seasoning, Jimenez will be flat-out scary.
S Jesse Paguaga, Xaverian: The best setters make their teammates look good and there wasn’t anyone better than Paguaga at that. Without his presence on the court, Xaverian had no chance to make a run to the CHSAA city championship match, where the Clippers lost to Regis. Paguaga was the team’s emotional leader and star player.
OH Joshua Ra, McKee/Staten Island Tech: MSIT didn’t start clicking until the playoffs and the Sea Gulls got better and better as the postseason wore on. The same could be said for Ra. The athletic, emotional junior was a driving force for Tech, helping to lead the team to the PSAL city semifinals. With Ra and Albert Chi back next season, the Sea Gulls have to be a favorite to win it all.
OH Ross Vizcaino, John F. Kennedy: For sheer athleticism and killer instinct, there wasn’t anyone who could match Vizcaino. The senior helped the Kennedy boys’ basketball team advance to the PSAL Class AA championship game at Madison Square Garden, where it fell to powerhouse Lincoln. A few months later, his powerful hits and momentum-swinging blocks helped lift the boys’ volleyball team to the city semifinals. It was a busy senior season for Vizcaino.