1992 – 1993 was an exciting year for Cooper Union Athletics. We had just started the men’s basketball team and the other students were anxious to get some other sports instituted. We had been to Cape Cod in the summer of 1992 with the soccer team. It was time to give the volleyball guys a chance. This group of volleyball players had a lot of athletic and academic talent.
I watched them play during the intramurals and we knew it was time to get this program off the ground. At the time, volleyball was a very difficult sport to schedule because you had to be in a conference. There was a gigantic Easter US Conference but no conference similar to the tennis conference we were in and the Hudson Valley Men’s program had not been started. The majority of the colleges playing volleyball had great histories and traditions. We would have to have them make a commitment first before we could make a commitment to a conference. Most conferences were really impressed with what they were doing and they were not encouraging new members. Most teams were playing 15 to 22 matches per season. The students who approach me about playing not only had the interest but the willingness to get this started. The tennis team had been to Florida to train and was a member of the Metropolitan Collegiate Tennis Conference. The soccer guys had played Webb a couple of times as well as Pratt. They were enjoying their embryonic stages.
We decided to take our players to Cape Cod during the last week of August. By this time, the soccer guys were training at the camp Team USA. We could then dedicate the entire trip to Cape Cod for volleyball. I had a friend who to this day was the best volleyball teacher and coach I had ever seen. His name was Robert (spelling) Pichado. Robert was a big time player, a big time thinker, and extremely proud to have an opportunity to work with the Cooper Union Players. We put them in connecting houses down on Surf Drive Beach. Every morning they would run at least a mile or two. We would then bring them out to the beaches in Orleans. There they were introduced to Ed. At the time, Ed was 6’6’’ and 70 years old. He was a guy who I had known for twenty years and he was one of the biggest global proponents of 2 on 2 beach volleyball. He was a wealthy man whose business took him worldwide and he made sure to play volleyball every day of his life. I didn’t know the depth or the breadth of his teaching ability. On that first day with our kids he spent a lot of his time demonstrating how good a player he was. He would take Jonathan and Manfai, put them on one side of the court and would then randomly select any person regardless of their age, gender, size, what-have-you, to be his partner. Ed and whoever he played with won every single time. At the end of each day, we would get back in the vans and my players would say, ‘When are we going to start training indoors?’ One of my great philosophies in life is ‘A tired kid is a good kid.’ At the end of each day, these kids were the best in the world. Our players thought this was the toughest things they had ever done. They didn’t know what was coming once they went indoors.
On the last day with Ed, we surprised the team and had a real New England lobster afternoon luncheon at his house. We cooked lobster, clams, corn-on-the-cob, and our players ate to their hearts’ content. Ed was generous with his compliment although he remained undefeated at volleyball. He encouraged the students to tour his home. Cooper Union players are always skeptical, but more importantly they are willing to learn and experience the most difficult way of doing things. As they walked around the house, they saw pictures of Ed playing volleyball around the world. Ed was not the most modest person and the kids enjoyed his stories, especially those about Karch Kiraly and some of the best players in the volleyball world. Karch Kiraly remains the best volleyball player in history.
It was an amazing three days. We gave them a day off to see what the players would do for their day off. Most didn’t want anything to do with volleyball on that day. That night we took them over to the Massachusetts’s Marathon Academy. Coach Pichado stood on a wheeled platform that put his waste above the net. A student would be placed on the other side of the net and bang balls at that person for one full minute. This was a digging, bumping and endurance drill. Your reflexes had to respond in almost a life saving millisecond. Eugene Kim looked like Rocky after fifteen rounds, staggering off after one minute. At the end of the drills they were so happy because they were so successful and realized the beach with Ed was easier than playing indoors.
This was the start of Men’s Volleyball at Cooper Union. I will always remember the efforts that group put in. They worked hard knowing that whatever they did would resonate forever. This year when Andrew Tam walked off the court as the most valuable player in the conference championship game and our team won their first championship I immediately thought of the work that was put in twenty years ago. Not only is this year’s team successful, but it has the same quality people that were up in Cape Cod twenty years ago. This team has the best coach who really understands Cooper Union and has a plan for their success. Jason and Max do an incredible job as leaders. In the summer of 2011, the varsity volleyball team will go back to Cape Cod for the first time since 1993.
One of the strengths of the team is the coaching. Telly has done a remarkable job for the last several years. He is a great teacher with a great personality that blends with the team. One of the reasons it took so long to win a championship is because there weren’t enough teams in the Hudson Valley Conference that play volleyball. For the past five years, our players were player against schools all around the metropolitan area that were representing other conferences at higher levels. We finally got enough teams in the Hudson Valley conference and now our players are reaping the benefits of all their efforts. Telly is a great coach and one of the main reasons is the help and dedication he gets from Jeff Castellano. Jeff graduate the school of art at Cooper Union. He has a great teaching ability, a great understanding of the game and a great understanding of angles. Jeff, as a player, is the total package. He can hit, defend, and he was an arialist. Jeff was determined to give it his best on every shot. He carried that over into his teaching and coaching and he is very well respected by our players. Jeff helps keep men’s volleyball afloat by coming up to Cape Cod every year with Dennis Kong, to help the women’s team. We knew that if we upgraded the sport of volleyball at Cooper Union eventually we’d find a conference to play in. The efforts that Jeff and Dennis have put in as undergraduates have put in as alumni and undergraduates, is something that goes unmatched in terms of giving. The Cooper Union volleyball community, for the past twenty years, have been on a rollercoaster which has been enjoyable, productive and always ready to get up to the next level.
This summer will be very interesting in the sense of how they will come back to defend their first championship. I know that this is such a tremendous modest group that I didn’t have to buy sweatshirts with XL hoods on them.