Maybe John Reingold should hand out nametags.
The longtime Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy girls volleyball coach was talking after his Lady Tigers wrapped up a straight-set victory over South Bronx when he looked over at his team packing up for the bus ride home.
“You don’t really recognize anybody,” Reingold said. “They are almost all new players. The only two you’d recognize from last year are Julie and Pat.”
That would be Julianne Fernandez and Patricia Casino, the only key returnees from an RKA team that made its third straight trip to the PSAL B championship game last season.
But that’s something else that’s new this year. The Lady Tigers will not make a run at a fourth straight appearance in the B title game as RKA moves up to the A Division in the Public School Athletic League this season. It’s a present for snaring the B crown in both 2016 and 2017 before losing to Roosevelt in the title tilt last season.
News of the move didn’t surprise Reingold. And from the looks of things, his players don’t seem to mind at all.
“I was kind of expecting it,” Reingold said. “A new challenge, new teams. We had played the same teams for 10 years, so playing new teams, that part of it is exciting.”
The Lady Tigers dipped their toes into the A Division waters with a season-opening victory over Walton before taking down Lehman in straight sets. So a victory over South Bronx last Thursday would give RKA a very solid start to their A experience.
But despite knocking off The Phoenix in straight sets to go to 3-0 on the season, the first set was a battle — one that showed some of the youthful mistakes and inexperience the Lady Tigers will have to battle through this season.
“We played a very competitive game against Walton, and they were better than any team we played in the B Division,” Reingold said of the 22-25, 25-18, 25-14 victory. “Columbus also looks like they’ll be pretty good, so we expect to get pushed this season because we’re a young team.”
South Bronx did some of that pushing in the first set, reeling off eight straight points to turn a 12-5 deficit into a 13-12 lead. But RKA shook off the rally, took the lead for good at 15-14, and pulled away for a 25-16 win.
Their first-set struggles seemed to anger the Lady Tigers as they came out in the second set with a fury, scoring the first 13 points before coasting to a dominating 25-4 win.
“I probably (teed) them off,” Reingold said of his between-set speech to his team. “We were sloppy. The reality is, how many points did that team win on its own in that first set? We gave away almost every one of them.”
But that second set was vintage RKA, so Reingold knows the talent is there.
“If we play clean, not be flashy and play the right way and let the mistakes happen on the other side, we’ll be OK,” Reingold said. “But our offense is so immature and inexperienced. All of our hitters, it’s their first year on the floor.”
But Casino — the veteran of two championships, three title game appearances and a 57-1 record in her Lady Tigers’ career — thinks once this group gets some games under its belt, it could turn into another strong season for RKA.
“I’m extremely excited to be in the A this season,” said Casino, the Lady Tigers’ setter who logged 14 assists in the win over South Bronx, compiling 60 assists through three games. “It’s our first year playing in the A, and I think it’s going to be a good experience for us playing new teams. We’re going to show other schools that we deserve to be in the A, and that we can do just as well as we did in the B.”
Fernandez had 11 digs and four assists. Freshman Adelina Elezaj chipped in with six kills, and junior Princesa Miranda added nine aces in the victory over South Bronx.
It’s a great start for a young team in a new division, but Reingold knows any success this season will depend on his new players gaining valuable experience with each match.
“For me, experience is everything,” Reingold said. “You never really want to put five kids on the floor at the same time who don’t really have a lot of experience. But that’s what we have right now.
“I’m very happy with how we’re played so far, but I think, with experience, we’ll only get better.”