Sure, they were the 25th-seeded team in the 26-team field in the Public School Athletic League volleyball playoffs. And yes, they faced steep odds of making a deep postseason run.
But the boys volleyball team at John F. Kennedy Campus was not lacking in confidence as they faced No. 8 High School for Math in a first-round match last week.
In fact, senior Idris Idris — who, along with teammate Daniel Hamilton, was a member of Kennedy’s city-title winning gymnastics team this season — said he was looking to add another championship to his resume before graduating.
Despite an abundance of confidence and a gritty performance against High School for Math, the Knights came up just short in a 25-18, 23-25, 25-23 loss to the Dragons.
“It was a pretty awesome match,” Kennedy head coach Matthew Singer said. “It was the best I’ve ever seen them play. But it was a tough game and there were some tough calls. But 25-23 is like splitting hairs. It was so close.”
Some of those tough calls, according to Idris, were what cost the Knights an opportunity to move on in the playoffs.
“To be honest, I really don’t feel like we lost. I feel like it was taken from us, and I think the ref had a big part to play in that,” Idris said. “I really don’t like saying this and blaming the ref, but after the game we were talking to their coach, and even he said the ref was making mistakes. There was a time when we caught up. But then they took the lead again, and those points were on the refs’ mistakes. I just feel something that we deserved was taken from us.”
The Dragons jumped out to an early lead in the first set, but Kennedy started to get its act together late and made a game of it before bowing 25-18. But Kennedy’s strong play late in that set carried over into the second when the Knights jumped out to an 11-2 lead, weathered a comeback attempt by the Dragons, and held on for the two-point win. The third set actually saw the High School for Math jump out to its own 11-2 lead, and this time it was Kennedy who rallied. But their comeback hopes were dashed by several calls against them down the stretch.
“We felt like we had them scared going into the third set,” Idris said. “We were like, ‘Man, this could be our last game.’ That’s when we started playing better. The passes were better and the sets and kills were there, and they started getting scared again. They started playing more cautious.”
Kennedy tied the game at 17, but couldn’t get over the hump.
“There was one play where I set up Daniel and he hit it out, but it was touched by one of their players and the ref gave them the point instead of us,” Idris said.
“Daniel even asked one of their players did they touch it, and they said they did. But it wasn’t just that play. There were a lot like that.”
After the game, Singer said he implored his players not to let the loss taint an otherwise successful season.
“I told them to not let this loss define them,” Singer said. “In this type of sport it’s really easy to turn against one another, and I related that to life. I told them in order to solve a lot of the problems they’re going to have in life, they need to turn to one another instead of against one another. I think they got that message loud and clear.”
Idris was more or less in a daze during Singer’s postgame speech.
“To be honest, I was just in my own world and I wasn’t paying attention to anything,” Idris said. “I was just staring at the scoreboard. But I did hear him say that we played our hardest and some of the best volleyball we played this season. But it was a match to remember.”
Under Singer, the Kennedy volleyball program has come a long way from the one that went 0-20 through the 2016 and 2017 seasons. With back-to-back playoff appearances the past two years, there is plenty to look forward to as the Knights program continues to grow.
“This is definitely a step in the right direction for us,” Singer said. “It’s really promising and I’m really excited for what’s going to happen next.”