Sports

Just one game separates RKA from PSAL three-peat

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The rallying cry all season for the Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy girls volleyball team has been, “Do this one for us.”

After winning back-to-back Public School Athletic League championships and posting back-to-back perfect divisional records, one would think the Lady Tigers might be more satisfied with their track record.

But not this group.

This year’s version of the Lady Tigers looks to build its own legacy at the school, hoist its own championship trophy, and raise its own championship banner.

The past two title teams belonged to former greats such as departed seniors Sommer Code and Amber Elson. Now Krystal Paulino, Zahra Jafar, Pam Gonzalez and Ketrina Alika want a title of their own. One where they are the main contributors, and not simply the supporting cast.

So with that in mind — and with Code, making a visit from Purchase College, sitting courtside for the Lady Tigers’ PSAL semifinal match against the Bronx School for Government & Justice — Paulino, Jafar and Co. took one step closer to clinching their own championship, taking down the Lady Jaguars 25-15, 25-20 to advance to their third consecutive championship game.

Top-seeded RKA was scheduled to face No. 3 seed Eleanor Roosevelt in the title game Nov. 28 at York College in Queens. Results of that game were not available by presstime.

“It feels good to be going back to the finals, but I didn’t like the way we played here,” RKA head coach John Reingold said.

“We have to play better volleyball because I know what we’re going to be up against with Roosevelt.”

There wasn’t much for Reingold not to like in the first set. RKA never trailed, and once the Lady Jaguars pulled within 9-7, RKA responded with an 11-2 run for a 20-9 lead, cruising the rest of the way.

But Reingold did have reason for mild concern in the second set as Government & Justice held an early 7-5 lead as they tried to force a third set and perhaps pull off the upset. But RKA was having none of it, pulling ahead at 8-7 and never relinquishing the lead.

The Lady Jags didn’t fold even as RKA looked like it had the game firmly in hand building a 23-14 advantage.

Government & Justice showed one last bit of fight, however, rallying for five straight points to pull within 23-19. But RKA refused to bend, and when Gonzalez smashed her 12th kill of the night for a 25-20 win, the Lady Tigers were back in the championship game, and just one victory away from their own page in RKA volleyball history.

“It got a little shaky in the second set,” said Paulino, who finished with five digs and two kills. “I knew we had the set because we had good momentum in the middle. When we were down I knew we would make it back eventually, and we did. They’re a good team, but I knew if we played our best or even close to our best, I knew we would win.”

Patricia Casino had 18 assists, Julianne Fernandez added eight digs, Alika had five digs and three kills, and Jafar finished with five digs and two kills for RKA.

But that tough second set was a reminder to Jafar that no one is going to roll over for RKA this deep in the playoffs.

“It just makes us realize what we have to work on and that we can’t let our energy drop and be handed a win,” Jafar said. “We know we have to work for it, so it’s good to have those moments.”

Now the Lady Tigers will turn their full attention to an Eleanor Roosevelt team that knocked off No. 2 seed Robert Wagner in the semifinals. Wagner was the team RKA beat in the past two title games.

“It feels even better to be going to the finals again this year because I get to go with my senior teammates,” Paulino said. “It’s great to go with them because then we can say it was our finals.”

Going to a third straight championship game feels like a dream to Jafar.

“It’s kind of surreal,” she said. “I played on the other two championship teams, but this year for me, as a captain — and I’m sure for the seniors — this is our chance to put a banner on the wall, and it would be our banner.”

And Reingold wants the three-peat as much as his team does.

“For me, if you’re going to get to the finals, I want to win the thing,” Reingold said. “I’m not here to be satisfied. I’m greedy like that.”

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