Taft High School was almost a half-hour late arriving at Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy last Friday for a pivotal Bronx B West Division volleyball match against the Lady Tigers.
When the Golden Eagles finally did arrive, they got there just in time to witness RKA’s pregame warm-ups, an athletic exhibition that seemed to leave Taft players with gnawing feeling of, “What are we getting ourselves into?”
Taft, which came into the game toting a 10-1 record, was the last team to knock off RKA on its home court. That match, however, came back on Sept. 28, 2015, and the Lady Tigers have since reeled off 22 straight home wins. But here was Taft again, an old nemesis, looking to not only challenge undefeated RKA for the divisional title, but also ruin the Lady Tigers’ Senior Day festivities.
But RKA was having none of it.
The Lady Tigers played the first set like the team bus was double-parked, needing just 14 minutes to squash Taft while using just 34 minutes in total to post an impressive 25-6, 25-8 straight-set victory over the Golden Eagles. With that, RKA locked up its second straight division title.
“I’ve been waiting for this day since freshman year,” senior Amber Elson said after the win. “I remember bringing out the flowers for the seniors back then because that’s how we did it on Senior Day then. But to see my family bring out flowers to me, I was just filling up with tears.”
Once the game started it was nothing but smiles for the Lady Tigers who jumped on Taft early and never let them get into the game. RKA opened up the first set with five straight points, upped the lead to 13-2 after a series of Sommer Code kills, and cruised to the easy first-set win.
It was more of the same in the second set when RKA again scored the first five points of the match and Taft never got closer than 14 points down the stretch.
It was just the latest display of how dominant a program the 13-0 Lady Tigers are again this season. The defending Public School Athletic League champions are now 47-2 in their last 49 regular-season games, and have not allowed any team to notch better than 12 points in any match this season.
“They are a very confident group,” head coach John Reingold said. “When I say ‘if’ or ‘should,’ they say ‘will.’ With them it’s not ‘if,’ it’s ‘when.’ And I understand where it’s coming from. They are not cocky, but they’re confident.”
RKA was led by the senior tandem of Elson and Code, a duo who has played together since their middle school days. Elson finished with 17 assists while Code logged 12 kills. Junior Krystal Paulino added 15 digs.
“I’ve known these kids for a long time,” Reingold said. “To see them develop into the players and young ladies and the athletes that they have become is great.”
About the only team that seemingly can beat RKA these days is, well, RKA. The Lady Tigers sleepwalked their way through a win over IN-Tech Academy prior to their victory over Taft, and Reingold said he had to have a rare sitdown with his team to get them refocused.
“I just have to remind them sometimes, like (the game versus IN-Tech) we didn’t play such a good set, but we were able to get the win because we were two levels better than the other team,” he said. “But I told them that if that was a quarterfinal or semifinal match against even a decent opponent, we would have struggled. And now that we’re at the end of the season and the playoffs are starting, it’s one and done. They need to understand that you can go home at any moment, so that’s why you need to be sharp every single day.”
Here’s an unsettling thought for the rest of the PSAL: Reingold feels this team is better than the one which won the city championship last season. And with a top seed all but assured in the upcoming playoffs, and games through the quarterfinal round to be played on its home court, RKA is looking like a solid bet for a championship repeat this season.
And Elson will enjoy every step of the journey in her final season.
“I don’t want to rush it,” she said. “I want everything to go by slowly because I want to cherish every single moment I have on the court. And I will until my last game, which I hope will be in the championship game.”