MIT’s Legendary Libero

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After four years, there is no doubt anymore: Eugene Jang is simply the most experienced volleyball player in the history of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He holds the school record for games played, both in a season and a career.

Four years, 472 games—a whole lot of volleyball. Jang has accomplished it all by carving out a spot for himself as a libero, the defensive specialist who is not allowed to make attacking shots. While the stars at the nets rack up the spikes, he’s in the backcourt making the gritty, unnoticed plays.

“Every time I play, I try to be a stabilizing and unifying force on the team,” Jang said. “As libero, you have to be very consistent all the time. It can be the most important position in terms of dictating how the team plays. A lot of it is the mind-set that you’re not going to let anything touch the ground and have the aggressiveness to sacrifice your body and keep the play going.”

Hunter College High School graduate Eugene Jang holds the record for games played, both in a season and a career, at MIT.

Hunter College High School graduate Eugene Jang holds the record for games played, both in a season and a career, at MIT.

Jang picked up the game seven years ago in 9th grade at Hunter College High School. On a team with modest height, he actually played as an outside hitter.

“It helped a lot that my high school coaches were really into it,” Jang said. “They got me to play for club teams and go to the Empire State Games.”

At MIT, playing up at the net was no longer an option for the 5-foot-8 Jang. He simply didn’t have the vertical reach to play against opponents who towered over him. But without much of a hitch, he made the transition to defensive specialist. This season, he recorded 334 digs while playing in every match and game as MIT went 25-12. Jang was also named for the second time to the Northeast College Volleyball Association’s (NECVA) All-Academic Team.

“It definitely became a different game in college,” he said. “I feel like I would much rather be the libero on a really good team than playing outside for a team that isn’t very strong. I enjoyed contributing to a team where the talent level was so high. This team this year was the best team I’ve ever played on, so it was a good way to go out.”

There were only three other locals who played college volleyball this winter, but their achievements were impressive. At Baruch, Eryk Kowalski (Environmental Studies) played in all 40 matches as a middle blocker for a team that finished 35-10, won the CUNY Athletic Conference Championship and reached the semifinals of the NECVA Championship. He recorded 265 kills, 12 assists, 25 aces, 77 digs and 137 blocks. Brendan Feng (Hunter) appeared in 18 matches as a freshman at Hunter College and had 55 assists. And at City College, Ramy Abdalla (Beacon) wrapped up his collegiate career as an outside hitter.

Squash—More squash talent comes out of New York than any other place in the country, and the powerhouse programs were packed as usual with local players. Harvard had Quinn and Zander Auerbach (both Collegiate) on the men’s team and Emily Park (Horace Mann) and Bree Sterne (Chapin) on the women’s team. Park was named a Second Team All-American after going 10-4 while playing between the second and fourth slots. Other Ivy League players included Blair Ligelis (Chapin) at Princeton, which won the national championship; Katherine Ettinger (Brearley) at Yale; and Jen Chu (Chapin) at Cornell.

Williams’ Julie Reiser (Brearley) played at the ninth spot and made her conference’s All-Academic Team. At Amherst, Caroline Dreyspool (Chapin) finished 4-13 at Nos. 8 and 9. Victoria Barba (Nightingale) was a First Team All-Conference player in her senior season at Tufts, where she played at the top of the lineup. And at Hamilton, James Hogan (Regis) was 9-13 while splitting time between the second, third and fourth spots. Julia Penrose (Spence) also played for Hamilton.

Finally, Christopher Berry (Dwight), John Gillespie (York Prep) and Andrew Rolfe (Riverdale) all played at Franklin & Marshall.

Swimming—Few local swimmers performed as well as Valeriya Varpakhovich (LaGuardia) did at Queens College. The senior was named Honorable Mention all-conference in the 200-yard medley relay, 800 freestyle relay and 400 free relay. At the Metropolitan Conference Championships, she finished 26th in the freestyle mile and 23rd in the 400 individual medley (IM). Tara Meiners, a former teammate of Varpakhovich’s at LaGuardia, swam for the College of Staten Island and finished fourth in the 200 backstroke at the CUNYAC Championships. She also helped the 400 free relay team finish third and won five individual races and five relays during the season. Other LaGuardia graduates now swimming in college included Tanaka Nyemba at Lehman and Utica’s Adrian Romanski.

Hunter had two swimmers in the collegiate ranks: Cary Stathopoulos at Dartmouth and Truman Liang at Northwestern. The former was 20th in the freestyle mile at the Ivy Championships, while the latter was part of the 400 free relay team that placed eighth at the Big Ten Championships.

Harvard’s Maggie Wollner (Riverdale) finished third in the 800 free relay at the East Coast Athletic Conference Championships and also broke the minute barrier in the 100 butterfly. Chessie Crane (Dalton) made her conference’s All-Academic Team while at Hamilton. Chrissy Stark (Cathedral) swam for John Jay, and Doug Ellman (Regis) competed at Princeton. Sydney Miller, meanwhile, took her talent in the pool from Columbia Prep to Bowdoin.

Two Spence graduates had standout seasons. Duke’s Katharine Bodnar was 16th in the 400 IM at the Atlantic Coast Conference Championships, finishing in less than 4:26. And at Georgetown, Katherine Lee placed 30th in the 100 breaststroke at the Big East Championships. Francesca Pirog (Brearley) and Katie Bolander (Nightingale) were also on the Georgetown roster.

Finally, Drew’s Tim Charpie (Lycee Francais) wrapped up his college career with the eighth best times ever at his school in the 400 IM, freestyle mile and 200 fly.

Other Sports—Bill Keenan (Collegiate) played hockey at Harvard. Celeste Abou Negm (Chapin) was a constant presence at No. 2 doubles and No. 4 singles on the Swarthmore badminton team. And Margot Stuchin (Horace Mann) was once again a standout archer for Columbia. She finished second at the U.S. Indoor National Championships with the recurve bow.

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