Academy of American Studies’ Conrad Zajkowski knew expectations would be higher coming into this season for the defending PSAL volleyball champions.
Zajkowski was a key starter last year as the small Long Island City school captured its first city title. The 2013 campaign was going to be a different test with the Eagles having to keep their cool as the hunted team throughout their travels.
“We weren’t the underdog this year, where this squad comes out of nowhere to try to win a championship and we just happen to do it,” Zajkoswki said. “This is the year we were the favorite and people are counting on us to win.”
Top-seeded Academy of American Studies kept its cool in tight situations last Thursday night by leaning on its key players. Starting setter Michal Kasza recorded a team-high 12 kills and brother Piotr led with 28 assists to guide the Eagles to a second straight title in a 25-22, 25-18 victory over No. 2 Cardozo at Hunter College.
“It sums up my volleyball experience perfectly,” said Zajkoswki, who only started playing the sport in high school. “In eighth-grade, if you told me I’d be playing volleyball and win two championships, I would have thought you would be crazy because I didn’t know a thing about volleyball.”
Eagles Coach Joshua Yang relied on his senior duo. Zajkowski, a 6-foot-4 starter in the middle was a calm presence and the athletic Michal Kasza provided the energetic output for the team this season.
“There is no other team I rather beat than Cardozo and Bronx Science last year,” Yang said. “That just says what kind of program we have. You don’t beat these guys with bad teams. You got to be prepared.”
Yang said his Eagles got a bit excited after racing out to a 14-5 lead in the first set. The Judges (16-1) settled down and made a late rally to cut the deficit to 23-22. American Studies called a few time-outs and rallied with the help of a big kill from Denis Begzic to record the final two points.
It looked as if Cardozo would carry over their momentum from their improved play late in the first set. The Judges had led 7-4, but faltered as American Studies ran off to score the next 10 out of 13 points.
“Our passing was off,” said Judges Coach Danny Scarola. “They were a little off at the end of the first game, but like they do all year, they were able to pick it up a little bit. We weren’t able to run our middles, which hurt us in the second game.”
Even though Michal Kasza graduates, he intends to be at many practices next year to help his brother and a young Eagles squad aim for a third straight title.
“[Piotr] is going to keep the team going,” Michal Kasza said. “Conrad and me are all going to come together to help them out and keep it going. Coach Yang, he’s the best right now.”
©2013 Community News Group
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