Powerhouse RKA want to repeat as volleyball champs

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Do you remember what you were doing on Oct. 19, 2015?

Probably not. But John Reingold remembers. 

That was the last time his Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy Lady Tigers volleyball team lost a regular-season match. More than 700 days and counting, and by the looks of things at a recent Lady Tigers’ practice, a total that is sure to grow by leaps and bounds this season.

Reingold, who not only coaches volleyball but also boys basketball and baseball at the school, has built something of a dynasty at RKA. It’s a program that has been to multiple Public School Athletic League semifinal and championship games, captured its first ever city title last season, and has posted an incredible 86-4 regular-season mark since Reingold took the reins in 2009.

“86 and four,” Reingold said with a wry grin. “Yeah, that sounds about right.”

 “Defeat” is not a word often heard around the RKA program as the Lady Tigers lose about as often as a total lunar eclipse. In fact in just the past three seasons alone, RKA has posted a robust 34-2 regular-season mark while making appearances in the PSAL championship game twice and the semifinals once. 

“Do we realize how successful we’ve been? We do,” Reingold said. “For the girls, it’s a sense of pride. But what I also love about this group is that it is never enough. It’s always, ‘OK, what’s the next challenge?’ 

“They won the city championship last year, and we’ve been to the finals three other times, and to the semifinals six years in a row. We were always a bridesmaid, and last year we were finally a bride. But now they’re looking for that next challenge.”

That next challenge will be whether the Lady Tigers can repeat as PSAL champions with the rest of the city lining up to take a shot at the defending champions.

“All the years I’ve been on this team, it has been a great experience,” senior standout Sommer Code said. “My freshman year we got close to winning the championship on a team with my sister (Reagan Austin). We got to the finals but lost. So to win it all last year was one of the most liberating things ever. We’ve made our mark at the school, but now the goal is to come back this year and try to take it again.”

Oftentimes complacency sets in after a championship is won. But that was never going to be a problem with this team. This group, Reingold said, is unlike any other he has coached.

“When they came back this year, I didn’t have to sell anything to them,” Reingold said. “They wanted to do it again, a repeat. So we’re always trying to get that next challenge for them and they eat it up. They’re willing, ready and able to do the work.”

Reingold called this year’s team the best, without any hesitation. 

“They really feed off each other, and they love being around each other,” he said. “I don’t  throw around words loosely, but it is an honor to coach them. They are everything that is right about team play and being a student-athlete.”

Amber Elson, another senior leader, was practicing in a jersey that read, “Winners do, others talk.” It’s that kind of quiet confidence that pervades through the entire RKA program and makes the Lady Tigers believe that a second straight title is theirs for the taking.

“The target is definitely on our backs.” Elson said. “All the other teams in the city definitely don’t want us to win another one. So we use that as the reason to work even harder. We’re going to do everything we can to try and maintain our title. This team has a really good bond and the chemistry is there to win another championship.”

Reingold, the architect of the powerhouse program, has warned his team the road to repeat can be an arduous one.

“Now everyone is coming after you,” Reingold said. “The word is out there about us and our success.” 

But confidence is high the Lady Tigers will be ready for all comers. Bring it, they say. 

“We’re hungry,” junior Ambar Cedeno said. “We want another championship. We’re not stopping at one. Since the beginning of the summer we’ve been saying, ‘We’re going to get another one, and we’re going to work harder than we did for the first one.’’ That second one is always harder.”

The drive for a repeat begins this week when RKA opens its season hosting Dodge. For senior Elianna Encarnacion, graduating with back-to-back city titles is this team’s mission.

“We only graduated three seniors from last year, so our whole starting lineup is basically still with us,” Encarnacion said. “We’re a very close team. We support each other all the time and the chemistry is amazing, and I think that will take us to where we want to go. We believe in ourselves that we can do it again.”

And if they do, Reingold will have to look for an empty space on the wall of RKA’s gym to hang another championship banner.

“I hope that happens,” Reingold said with a laugh. “That would be an easy problem.”

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