American Studies wins PSAL volleyball title
Every time Michal Kasza stepped on the volleyball court, whether it was practice at the cramped gym at tiny Academy of American Studies, a league match or in tournament play, the junior outside hitter thought about last year’s loss to Bryant in the PSAL final.
It was that defeat that served as motivation for the Eagles and helped carry them back to the title match as the undefeated top seed.
Yet, there was American Studies, back at packed Hunter College, trailing No. 2 Bronx Science by five points early in the second set after losing the opening set.
“I thought if we didn’t win the second set, the third set, maybe volleyball wouldn’t touch my hands for another two months after that,” Kasza said.
That wouldn’t happen. Kasza and Conrad Zajkowski wouldn’t let it happen.
“I didn’t want to lose two years in a row, I’ll tell you that right now,” Zajkowski said. “I was thinking to myself, our whole goal since we lost in the finals was to win it. We were just thinking about this the whole season.”
The duo helped American Studies rally to win the second and then the decisive third set as the Eagles beat Bronx Science, 20-25, 25-19, 25-16 to capture the PSAL title Thursday afternoon.
It is the first city crown for American Studies in boys volleyball and only the second overall in history for the school of a little more than 700 that shares the old Long Island City building with Newcomers High.
“Last year was a coming out party for American Studies,” Eagles coach Josh Yang said. “The boys bring legitimacy to what I do and its all to their credit. It’s a big deal that we won.”
It seemed like every person in the American Studies student body packed the wooden bleachers at Hunter College. Bronx Science brought a healthy fan base, too, creating a festive and, at times, deafening atmosphere.
“All day long I heard good luck coach, good luck coach, from people I don’t normally hear it from…They really showed up and did a great job,” Yang said.
American Studies (15-0), ranked No. 1 in New York City by MSG Varsity, dropped its first set all season in a semifinal win against Cardozo and found itself trailing, 25-20, Thursday.
Led by 6-foot setter Jerry Henriquez, who had nine kills and 13 assists, the Wolverines raced out to an 7-2 lead in the second set and it appeared Bronx Science was on its way to a first PSAL title since 1987.
“I don’t know if we let down a little bit,” Bronx Science coach Jeremy BasSie said. “At 7-2, we were blocking, forcing them to make some errors and there was just a sense that it was going to be our night.”
But then Zajkowski struck. The 6-foot-7 junior middle had six of his 11 kills in the second set to rally the Eagles, which went on a 9-3 run to end the set and level the match.
“Conrad is doing the work, a kill every single second,” Kasza said of Zajkowski. “Once he gets the ball, its down. He’s just pushing everyone.”
That was Kasza’s job in the third set. No. 2 Bronx Science (14-1) led 2-1 early, but back-to-back Kasza kills gave the Eagles a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. He finished with a game-high 14 kills and seven digs and couldn’t be stopped, not even when BasSie twice called timeout in the third to try and slow American Studies’ momentum.
“We just tried to neutralize him by going 6-7 and 6-4 against him, but he’s going to make plays,” BasSie said. “He’s the best player in the city.”
And American Studies is the best team in the city. That was hammered home, quite literally, on one more emphatic Zajkowski kill to end the third set and set off an epic celebration, culminated by the Eagles lifting the big man up on their shoulders.
“I was thinking about all my teammates, playing with them,” Zajkowski said were his thoughts immediately after the match. “It’s a real privilege to get to number one.”
It also might not be the last time American Studies celebrates on the PSAL’s championship court. All but two players – including key starters Michal and Piotr Kasza, who had 27 assists and 10 digs, and Zajkowski – return to defend their title.
“Piotr, Michael and Conrad walk in and I know this is a three-year window for me,” Yang said. “I don’t know if we get talent like that in the city. I am going to cherish this moment.”
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