It wasn’t all that long ago the John F. Kennedy campus boys volleyball team was little more than the doormat program in the Bronx A Division. In fact, if one goes back to the 2016 and 2017 seasons, the Knights were a combined 0-20 in conference play, and were consistently looking up at every other team from their spot in the conference basement.
But last year, head coach Matthew Singer ushered in a new era as the Knights rebounded from those two forgettable seasons to post a surprising 6-4 conference record and qualify for the Public School Athletic League playoffs.
So what if they lost their first-round playoff game? Better days had arrived at Kennedy, and the Knights were back on the city’s volleyball map.
As the 2019 season opened last week, Kennedy looked to build on what they accomplished before, beginning this season with an opening-day victory. And the Knights did just that.
With Abel Katea posting a double-double with 10 service points and 11 kills; Idris Idris logging 20 assists, six service points and two aces; and Daniel Hamilton stuffing the stat sheet with five kills, three digs, two service points and a block, the Knights pulled off a 25-23, 25-21 victory over Columbus to start the season with a win for the first time in many seasons.
Suddenly those 0-10 campaigns seem like a long, long time ago.
“This year I’m hoping to go 10-0 and then go to the playoffs,” said Hamilton, who knows a thing or two about winning as he was a member of the Knights’ city title-winning boys gymnastics team this season. “We want to make it far this year.”
Kennedy trailed most of the first set and didn’t take its first lead until 11-10 midway through. But the Knights couldn’t shake Columbus. Kennedy went up 14-12 only to see Columbus rally to take a 17-14 lead.
That’s when Katea went to work. The senior posted three kills and a pair of service points to give Kennedy a 20-18 lead. Columbus closed within two late in the set, but the Knights held on from there with a Katea kill sealing the deal for Kennedy.
Kennedy got off to a slow start in the second set, falling into a 13-5 hole after a 12-1 run by Columbus. But Kennedy came storming back, going on a 10-point roll of their own to take a 15-13 lead, and the Knights never trailed again.
And yes, Katea was in the middle of that comeback as well.
“Abel was killing it with his serves,” Hamilton said. “We were all just getting our passes up, and he were just killing it.”
Katea was simply overpowering Columbus in the second set, Singer said.
“We had a dominant server in Abel who really turned the set around and pulled us forward and led us to the win,” said Singer, who was an assistant coach on the championship gymnastics team. “This year I’m expecting that we play consistently and just play better as the season goes on.”
No one on the Knights current roster was around the last time the team won its season opener. So knocking off Columbus on opening day was a breath of fresh air for an up-and-coming Kennedy program.
“To start like this is great,” Hamilton said. “It brings a good vibe to everybody, and it keeps us motivated not to lose.”
With a veteran-laden, senior-dominated team, this just might be the season Kennedy breaks through and challenges the conference elites like Bronx Science and Walton.
“They were the two top teams last year and we almost beat them last year,” Hamilton said. “So I’m pretty sure this year we can take them. We can be really good. We can beat a lot of teams, even the top-ranked teams in Manhattan and the city. I think we can go really far.”
And maybe win another city title to go with his gymnastics championship before he graduates?
“Yes, that’s what I’m trying to do,” Hamilton said. “Win two before I leave.”