The Public Schools Athletic League’s postseason volleyball tournament, a sprawling 51-team, double-bracket affair, takes place entirely in the subterranean gyms of Hunter College on 695 Park Avenue. And the result on Saturday, when all 19 first-round games took place on three hectic, crowded courts, was a mini-cauldron of excitement and emotion, screams of joy and groans of agony.
For June Piniewski, the head coach of the squad from Hunter College High School, it was all a bit too much in the wake of her team’s 2-0 loss to Christopher Columbus High School in the “A” Division.
“We had a successful season, but…” she said before trailing off.
To call Hunter’s season a success is a bit of an understatement. The Headhunters finished 12-0 in the
regular season and ran away with their league title. They surrendered only two games all season, sweeping the rest of their matches. But that was sometimes hard to remember in the aftermath of a first-round upset that left their head coach momentarily speechless and most of the players too upset to talk.
“Hunter is always pretty decent in the playoffs,” said Piniewski, who guided her team to the city semifinals last year. “We usually go pretty far, and this is a tough loss after going undefeated during the regular season. I think we had a little bit of an off day. Our sets were a little off, and our hits were a little off.”
The problems were apparent from the beginning as Columbus took an immediate 4-0 lead. Hunter did not seem to find its rhythm until the middle of the game, and by then it was too late as Columbus won seven straight points to finish 25-14.
The second game was much more promising for the Headhunters. Though they never found their offensive firepower, they managed to bait their opponents into a series of hitting errors. Hunter made up a four-point deficit midway through and then took a brief 20-19 lead. The score was knotted at 23, but Columbus pulled away to win, capping the victory with an ace.
Hunter received valiant efforts from players like setter Francesca Sosnowski, who finished with seven assists. Nicole Zelek had three aces and six digs, while Thea Goldring led the defense with eight digs. Daniela Bartalini, who contributed six service points on Saturday, finished fourth in the city during the season for that statistic with 110.
Though the match was ostensibly an upset—the 24th-ranked team over the no. 9 seed—Columbus was likely placed too low thanks to a schedule that featured tough league foes. As if to prove the point, it beat the eighth-seeded team the next day.
“They were everywhere all the time,” Piniewski said. “They worked hard and dove for every ball. We couldn’t prepare ourselves for their kind of attack when we hadn’t seen it earlier this year. That left us out of position sometimes.”
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