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Science edges RKA in battle of unbeatens

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No one was exactly sure what was going to unfold last week when the Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy girls volleyball team made the short trek over to Bronx Science for the first-ever league game between the two Bronx powers.

Science came into the game having won its last 79 regular-season games, while RKA — winners of two of the past three Public School Athletic League B Division championships — was unbeaten through its first six games in its A Division maiden season.

“We’ve always known (RKA) was a good competitor, and we always wondered why they were in the B Division,” Science’s stellar sophomore setter Grace Lorch said. “So when we saw they moved up to the A this year, we knew we’d have a worthy opponent to go up against during the regular season, which typically we breeze through.”

But there was no breezing through this time around for the Wolverines as they faced their stiffest test to date against the upset-minded Lady Tigers. But with superlative efforts by Lorch, Anya Lollos, Darya Lollos, Amanda Maeglin and Lucia Cho — especially down the stretch in the second set — the Wolverines fought off a valiant effort by RKA and posted their 80th straight regular-season victory with a 25-18, 25-22 decision over the Lady Tigers.

After holding off a late RKA rally before securing the first-set win, the Wolverines (8-0, Bronx A-1 Division) found themselves in unfamiliar territory midway through the second set as RKA led 18-15. That’s when Science head coach Dan Skilins called a timeout to regroup. The respite worked as the Wolverines outscored RKA 10-4 down the stretch to pull out the narrow victory.

But it wasn’t without some anxious moments for Science.

“It definitely did get a little bit antsy,” said Lorch, who logged 20 assists. “But we were able to pull through, and we were able to pull ahead, which is what we need to be able to do.”

What also came out of the match, aside from the Wolverines winning their 160th consecutive set (they have never lost one in the regular season in Skilins’ six-plus years as coach) was a hefty dose of respect for the Lady Tigers program.

“I think (RKA) coach (John) Reingold does a heck of a job,” Skilins said. “I think he is a heck of a coach and a heck of a person. And they are always very competitive. I’m glad the PSAL moved them up finally. They should have been moved up years ago. They had multiple championships in the B Division, so that speaks to how good a program they have.”

Like Bronx Science, RKA is another program that rarely loses, having dropped just one regular-season game in the past three-plus years, with that loss coming in last year’s B championship game. It was a defeat that prevented RKA from winning a third straight title.

So while the loss to Science stung a bit, Reingold and the Lady Tigers (6-1, Bronx A-2 Division) proved they are a strong program ready to take on all challengers.

“I thought we were right there,” Reingold said. “Maybe a whisker below Science. But you can see what we’re trying to put together and develop. I thought we were still a year or two away, but after today, maybe we’ve arrived a little earlier than I thought.”

RKA co-captain Julianne Fernandez was proud of the performance the Lady Tigers turned in at Science.

“I thought in the second set we really pushed through and fought our hardest and did our best,” said Fernandez, who finished with 13 digs. “It was disappointing we didn’t win, but we’ll just fight harder now. We feel amazing that we played the way we did and fought our hardest. We really gave it our all.”

Being pushed hard by RKA also benefited the Wolverines, Lorch said. “In the past we’ve been up and down with our emotions and just how we play in general. So playing against RKA really helped us with our attitude, and that just made us play better.”

Anya Lollos finished with 11 kills for Science while Darya Lollos added five service points. Cho logged 11 digs with Maeglin notching seven of her own along with five service points. Lorch also added a good number of floor burns to go along with her 20 assists.

“I have plenty of them,” Lorch said with a laugh. “I have a couple of bruises, too. But this was a great experience for us.”

Despite notching their first loss of the season, Reingold was pleased with his Lady Tigers performance.

“This is the first time we’ve ever come to Science to play them in league play,” Reingold said. “But they gave good heart and good hustle, and I was very happy about that.”

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