The Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) of Brooklyn and Queens teamed up with St. John’s University, Jamaica, for a series of CYO nights this fall in which the young athletes got the chance to soak in the Division I college atmosphere.
Budding CYO boys and girls soccer teams attended Red Storm men’s and women’s soccer matches, and on Oct. 2, volleyball teams were present for the St. John’s match against Big East rival Creighton University, Omaha, Neb.
Teams from St. Matthias, Ridgewood; St. Joseph’s, Astoria; American Martyrs, Bayside; and Blessed Trinity, Breezy Point, were in attendance. How thrilling for young CYO stars to learn about the sport they love by watching a group of college student-athletes play.
“One of the things that we’ve done here is try to make the connection that goes through the diocesan CYO, through the Catholic High School Athletic Association and to our Catholic universities in the diocese,” said Keith Goldberg, CYO sports coordinator. “It encourages the kids that they can come through CYO, move on to high school and play at a college like St. John’s.”
As part of the experience, the CYO athletes formed a tunnel for the college players to run through during the opening introductions at Carnesecca Arena. After the match, the college players signed autographs and posed for photos with the kids, who were not afraid to ask any and every volleyball-related question.
“It was really cool giving the high-fives to the players and meeting them afterwards,” said Julia Drozd, a member of the St. Matthias team. “Communication is key because you have to talk to every player. It’s going to help me now since I saw them and picked up some information to do it better.”
Not too long ago, it was the college players that were in the young girls’ shoes, so they were sure to set a positive example and create further enthusiasm for the sport.
“They inspire us and always bring a smile to our face,” said St. John’s senior outside hitter Karin Palgutova. “I want to show them to play as hard as they can and bring the best attitude.”
Seeing how the Division I college athletes communicate on the court can really go a long way for a young volleyball player, so the CYO teams were sure to pay close attention while seated in the stands.
“We can pick up a lot of things in terms of movement, ball control, spiking, setting and jump serving,” said Peter Chong, a coach at American Martyrs. “There’s a lot to pick up and observe, and I think it will definitely help them in their own game.”
St. John’s is known for being a fundamentally sound program, which allowed the CYO teams to target some areas that can help them improve their game.
“They like to block a lot and use misdirection,” said Waverly Chong, who plays for American Martyrs.
Meanwhile, the whole experience allowed the St. John’s student-athletes to interact with the local community of young volleyball players. Who knows? Maybe the next great Red Storm volleyball star was seated in the crowd that night.
“When I was a kid, I was so shy and always hanging out by myself,” said St. John’s senior setter Deniz Mutlugil. “The reason why my parents wanted me to do this was because I could get better at communicating and talking to people. No matter if you’re a starter or a bench player, just have fun.”
CYO volleyball season may not start for another few months, but watching the St. John’s team was both a great learning and bonding experience for the young athletes.
Not many kids are lucky enough to be able to use a Division I college match as a way to make their own on-court performance better, but this group will surely use that experience in preparation for next season.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.