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It was the tail end of the Cardozo boys' volleyball team's toughest match of the season. The Judges were knotted up with Grover Cleveland late in the semifinals of the Tottenville tournament on Staten Island. And while everyone on the team tensed up with the prospect of losing an undefeated season, Joe Park was calm.
"Anything could have happened if he didn't keep his cool," senior middle hitter Randy Preval said.
But that's just what Park does. The three-year starting setter steadied the troups even after the third game went into extra points and Cardozo pulled out the victory. The Judges won the Tottenville tournament, still haven't lost this season and are the No. 1 seed in the PSAL Class A boys' volleyball playoffs. Cleveland is actually seeded second. That match turned out to be incredibly important.
Park, a 5-foot-9 Bayside native, is Cardozo's heart beat. He led the city in assists and is a strong candidate for the Heisman Wingate award, given annually to the top senior in a PSAL sport. But very little of what Park does is about statistics and individual accomplishment. A setter, by definition, is someone who gets his teammates involved. And there's no one better at that than Park. Preval, who played basketball at Cardozo, joked that if he had a point guard who distributed the ball like Park he'd still be playing hoops.
"You can compare it to having a great catcher in baseball, having a great point guard in basketball, having the star quarterback in football," coach Danny Scarola said. "He runs everything. So, you gotta have a guy with a brain Joe has it. Physical ability? He has it....He sets up every player. We can run every play with Joe as our setter."
Just like he puts his teammates in perfect position, Park has helped to give Cardozo a tremendous chance to win its first city championship since 1997. The Judges made it to the title match last year and the semifinals in 2006. They also were city runners up in 2000 and 2005. After losing to Midwood in last season's final, Park renewed his commitment to volleyball in a big way. He hit the gym and sculpted his body. He played volleyball over the summer with a Korean American team which represents New York in a tournament against Korean squads from around the country. Park was one of the youngest on a team with men mainly in their late 20s.
The main goal for a teen who won't be playing volleyball next year at upstate Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has always been winning a city championship.
"That would be like the final missing piece for my high-school volleyball career," Park said.
The key to Park's success is utilizing his weapons and there are many. Preval and junior Todd Gaugler are strong in the middle, senior Eric Barty and junior Bonjun Koo are forces on the outside and Sam Park is excellent as an opposite hitter.
"I try to experiment in practice, see what they're good at, see what they're not good at," Park said.
There might be a time coming soon, perhaps a date in this year's title match, when Park will have to replicate that calmness he showed in the Cleveland match. And when times get tough, there isn't anyone else his coach would want leading the team.
"He's the captain, the guys have confidence in him," Scarola said. "His demeanor is great. He's as cool as they come."
Reach Associate Sports Editor Marc Raimondi by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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