Cedrick Gilardez was nearing the end of his freshman year when his sister, Rietzl, suggested he try out for the North High boys’ volleyball team.
Although initially uninterested, Gilardez ultimately decided to give it a go since he had no other after-school plans. Turns out Rietzl, who captained the girls’ volleyball team for three of her four seasons before graduating from North in 2018, served up an ace.
“I didn’t really want to play, but I wasn’t doing much of anything else,” Gilardez, 17, said Tuesday, one day before he graduated. “(Turned out) I really love the sport. It’s a lot of fun and a break from reality for me.
“My teammates and the people, especially my coach (Julie Vaughn Borges), really made it fun. That’s what I enjoyed the most all four years. I’m honestly really grateful that she got me to try out.”
The inexperienced Gilardez quickly took to the sport. He was a varsity contributor as a freshman and became a starter and captain as a sophomore, positions he maintained for the remainder of his high school career.
Named the Polar Bears’ Rookie of the Year as a freshman and Defensive Player of the Year as a sophomore, Gilardez earned a spot on the T&G Super Team last year after piling up 339 assists, 153 service points and 41 aces to help North return to the playoffs after a one-year absence.
“He’s just an amazing all-around player,” said Vaughn Borges, who has coached the boys’ team since 2007 and the girls’ team since 2002.
However, Vaughn Borges wasn’t sure what she had in the 5-foot-4, 140-pound Gilardez when he first took the court as height, as is the case in basketball, is a decided asset in volleyball. But not only would Gilardez improve by leaps and bounds, but he also could leap and bound.
“As a volleyball player, you see him stand up, and you’re like, ‘OK, how is this short guy going to be able to jump?’ ” she said. “But he can block and attack himself, which is really amazing. He’s got a vertical (leap) that you wouldn’t believe.”
Gilardez can get his arm above the net, which is nearly 8 feet high, and can come close to touching a basketball rim, which rests 10 feet off the ground. But it was in his role as setter that he made his most tangible contributions.
Think of the setter as the heart of the team, someone who directs the show as an on-the-court coach. The position requires a player to instantly diagnose fluid situations and quickly determine which, when and where his teammates will be set up for the opportunity to make a point-scoring play.
So it’s much a cerebral position as a physical one, which Gilardez embraced and relished.
“I like when the pressure is put on me because I feel like I perform a lot better,” he said. “It’s a huge responsibility in that position, and it’s really challenging, but it’s just a lot of fun playing because I’m the one who usually has contact with the ball and sets the plays up. It’s fun because I get to make decisions that are best for the team to make points.”
The Polar Bears returned seven seniors from last year’s team that went 11-8 and lost to eventual state finalist Natick, 3-1, in the first round of the Central Mass. Division 1 Tournament. In addition to Gilardez, there was fellow captain Christian Cruzado, Luiz Barbosa Santana, Dang Nguyen, Davis Torres Montanez, Jose Perez and Rayuth San.
So optimism reigned on Harrington Way this spring before the coronavirus originally postponed and eventually canceled the season.
“That was definitely the goal this year, to make it to playoffs,” said Gilardez, who spent the offseason honing his game with the Worcester-based Dragons Volleyball Club. “I think our team was going to do a lot better than we did last year because we learned a lot from our mistakes.”
On Tuesday, caps and gowns were handed out to the North seniors. Vaughn Borges used the opportunity to gather her graduating players for a final time, holding a mask-wearing, socially distanced gathering at nearby Harrington Field.
Each player received a personalized poster made by classmate and girls’ volleyball team captain Stephanie Vuong and a plaque and goodie bag from Vaughn Borges.
“It was pretty cool,” said Gilardez, whose next stop is Quinsigamond Community College to study sociology and psychology. “I hadn’t seen everyone in a couple of months, so that was pretty good, and especially because I got to see my coach, too.”
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