Decision to play libero pays off

St. Joseph's Kurt MacDonald, the 2013 Home News Tribune Boys Volleyball Player of the Year. Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan

St. Joseph’s Kurt MacDonald, the 2013 Home News Tribune Boys Volleyball Player of the Year. Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan

When Kurt MacDonald decided to start playing volleyball competitively, he knew he’d be limited in what position he’d play on the court because of his 5-foot 8-inch frame. He could have chosen to be a setter, but instead landed on the defensive specialist position of libero. The rest, as they say, is history.

In three seasons, MacDonald became the St. Joseph High School all-time leader in digs with 1,039 and in each of his three seasons as a member of the varsity squad, MacDonald played in the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament title game. This year, to top off his stellar career, he helped the Falcons get to their first NJSIAA Tournament of Champions Final since 2008 by recording a state-best 568 digs.

MacDonald is The Home News Tribune’s Player of the Year.

When it came time to choose a sport to try out for in the spring of 2010, MacDonald had a difficult decision to make.

“Volleyball is probably my best sport, but I was really good at lacrosse too,” he said. “I chose volleyball about a week before the tryouts because I thought I had a better chance because of my size.”

From there, MacDonald spent one season on the freshman team before forcing his way onto the varsity squad, coached by Miguel Cabrita.

“Going into sophomore year I was supposed to be a practice player on varsity and a starter on JV, but I wound up working my way onto the varsity as the libero,” MacDonald said. “I knew I couldn’t be a hitter and I just wound up having the agility and the lateral movement to be a libero. I trained to play libero and I love it.”

He displayed that lateral movement at the most opportune time this season. With the score tied late in the deciding third set against East Brunswick in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Final, MacDonald dove to his left, extended his left arm and connected with the ball for his 19th dig of the contest. But not only did he get to the ball, he got enough of it to deflect it over the net and out of the reach of all six East Brunswick players to give St. Joseph a lead they wouldn’t relinquish en route to the sectional title.

“It was one of those moments that you always think about to be the game-changer and be the one to make the play that turns the game around,” MacDonald said. “It was in the third set when the score was tied and the opportunity presented itself and that’s what we train for.”

MacDonald, who plans on continuing his volleyball career next spring at Ramapo College, is the vocal leader and the one that can get in the face of his teammates at any point during a match.

“He’s the first one to tell the guys when they’re not living up to their potential and doing what they’re supposed to be doing and they respect that,” Cabrita said. “They won’t argue with him, they’ll just look at him and realize what they’re doing wrong and they bring their ‘A’ game. It’s good to have him on the court for us.”

MacDonald finished his St. Joseph career with 53 service aces and just 19 assists to go along with the more than 1,000 digs. Six years later, it seems like he made the right choice when choosing which position to play.

“I wouldn’t change it for anything,” he said. “I love moving around and sacrificing my body and making cool plays to get the crowd going.”

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