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American Studies wins volleyball title

Academy of American Studies celebrates victory over Bronx High School of Science. Photo by Denis Gostev
TimesLedger Newspapers

Michal Kasza came into practice last week upset. Academy of American Studies beat Cardozo in the semifinals, but the Eagles dropped their first set of the season.

“I felt like in semifinals I let my team down a little,” Kasza said. “My service wasn’t there, the kills I could have done a little better.”

When Academy lost the first set in the championship match, he was even more upset. The crowd, he said, might have been getting to him.

In the final two sets, though, the only thing louder than the raucous, packed bleachers was the sound of Kasza’s crushing attacks hitting the floor on the other side of the net.

The super-athletic junior outside hitter had 14 kills to lead top-seeded Academy of American Studies to a 20-25, 25-19, 25-16 win over No. 2 Bronx Science in the PSAL boys’ volleyball championship match last Thursday night at Hunter College. The victory marks the small Long Island City school’s first boys’ city title.

“I couldn’t believe we actually won,” Kasza said. “When Conrad [Zajkowski] got the kill, it was amazing. I didn’t know what to do. Everybody was running around.”

Academy (15-0) came back from down a set and trailing 7-2 in the second set to pull off the stunning victory. There were times it seemed like Bronx Science (14-1), the taller team, would prevail. The Eagles didn’t let it happen.

“They might have height over there, but we have a lot of heart on our side,” Academy of American Studies Coach Josh Yang said. “That’s what we pride ourselves on.”

Yang joked that almost the entire school was in the gym last Thursday. Both sides of the bleachers were full, mostly with students from each institution. Yang said people came up to him and wished him good luck who had never done it before. The Eagles had become matinee idols in the 700-student school that shares a building with Newcomers.

“The boys kind of bring legitimacy to what I do,” Yang said. “It’s all to their credit. It’s a big deal that we won. We’re a tiny school.”

Academy was sent home empty-handed in last year’s final against Bryant; that wasn’t the case this year. Zajkowski added 11 kills, Piotr Kasza had 27 assists and 10 digs and Ricky Myint added 13 for the odds-on favorite to win the title — and that goes for next year, too, with the two Kaszas and Zajkowski coming back.

“They got going and when they get going, it’s pretty scary,” Bronx Science Coach Jeremy Bassie said. “We tried to neutralize [Michal Kasza] by going 6-7 and 6-4 against him, but he’s the best player in the city. He’s going to make plays.”

Yang agreed with that “best player in the city” remark wholeheartedly, going as far as to say the older Kasza is the best player in recent years and will remain that way a few years into the future. Not just because of his hitting, either, but his passing and leadership.

“I don’t know what to tell him next year, man,” Yang said. “How am I going to get this kid better? He is just a phenomenal talent.”

It was Zajkowski, the hero of the semifinals, who got the final kill, though. While the bench players came onto the floor to mob the starters, Zajkowski turned to the Academy of American Studies contingent in the stands, opened his arms and let out a roar.

“We just played our hearts out, man,” he said.

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