In the moments following his 1,000th career assist on May 9, Jose De La Cruz was mobbed by his teammates, given a ball to commemorate the honor and posed for countless photos with family and friends.
Watching on a livestream 3,000 miles away was the person De La Cruz credits the most for reaching the milestone – his older brother Leader, who is currently stationed at a U.S. Marine base in California.
“He was also a setter and he’s the one who taught me how to play,” said Jose De La Cruz, who first started playing volleyball in seventh grade. “He taught me how to set, how to receive. He taught me how to be a volleyball player. Everything I know is because of him. I reached this milestone to show my brother that his work was not put to waste.
“He watched the live stream from the YouTube page. He told me that he was proud and I was really happy he said that.”
De La Cruz became just the fourth Blue Tide player to reach 1,000 assists, joining Victor Narvaez, Jimmy Vega and Sandro Barrantes. He then followed it up with his two highest assist totals of the season, getting 31 in a three-set win over Bayonne the next day and a 32 a day later in a three-set victory against Wayne Valley.
These performances have earned De La Cruz The Observer Athlete of the Week honors for this week.
For the season, De La Cruz has 470 assists, which are the sixth most in the state.
“Before the season, I do a thing where we set our own personal goals and then we set team goals,” head coach Nick Landy said. “One of his goals was to get a ball in that case (for 1,000 assists) and he got it done. We’re really proud of him.”
While 1,000 assists is, by definition, an individual milestone, both Landy and De La Cruz know that it is one that is in many ways a team accomplishment since it can’t be achieved without a teammate converting the pass into a kill.
“I am so thankful to my hitters – QQ (Guilherme Queiroz), Adrian Vivanco, Adrian Jimenez, Gabriel Mocelini, Frank Barrera – because if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have reached the milestone,” said De La Cruz. “It doesn’t matter what I can do, without them putting the ball down, I would not have been able to reach the milestone.This milestone isn’t just for me, it’s for the team because it shows that we have been able to reach this amount of points in two years.”
De La Cruz’s ability to get all of his teammates involved is a big reason for Harrison’s current 21-2 record. Queiroz, Vivanco and Jimenez all have more than 100 kills on the season.
According to Landy, De La Cruz also has the ability to accomplish similar stats as an outside hitter.
“Not only can he set, he can do everything on the court,” Landy said. “We use him as a setter because that’s where he wants to be and that’s where he’s practiced, but he could have been an outside hitter, he serves well and is a real strong player.
“As a player, he definitely brings a lot to the table. He’s able to block, he’s able to keep us on the court and keep us in the match.”
With the milestone out of the way, all focus is now on what is set to be the biggest week of the season for Harrison. The Blue Tide, currently ranked No. 5 in the NJ.com Top 20, played rival Kearny on Monday, the first matchup between the two since last year’s state tournament win by the Kardinals.
Two days later, Harrison begins its quest for its third Hudson County title when the Blue Tide, seeded third, play its quarterfinal match. The semifinals are set for Thursday and the final is scheduled for Saturday.
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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.