By Patrick McCormack
Coach Anna Dawidowska came into the season with high expectations for her Grover Cleveland boys’ volleyball team, even though its lineup featured four sophomores.
“I made sure from the very beginning I set high expectations and I didn’t want to treat them like sophomores,” Dawidowska said. “I also believe if you are a teacher in the classroom or a coach in the gym, if you set high standards kids will step up to it and they for sure did.”
The young, sixth-seeded Tiger squad met those standards by defeating No. 5 Environmental Studies 30-28, 24-26, 25-15 to win the program’s first PSAL A city title at Hunter College May 27.
“They have improved every game,” Dawidowska said. “I can’t believe a team with four sophomores is able to compose themselves the way they have. I am beyond proud of them.”
The Tigers were tested and their nerves showed early in the match. Down 13-6 in the first set, Grover Cleveland (14-1) rallied to score five consecutive points to cut the Environmental Studies (12-2) advantage to 13-11. The Eagles were then able to get their lead back to 17-12.
“I think when young athletes begin games on this level they are a little nervous,” the coach said. “The nerves got the best of them in the beginning. What got them going was pure talent and knowing good volleyball.”
The Tigers eventually settled in and went on a 10-4 rally to go up 22-21. The teams went back and fourth until sophomore Juan De Jesus and junior Costinel Oaie recorded back-to-back kills to complete the 30-28 victory.
De Jesus, who was a big part of the team’s victory, made big-time plays as just a sophomore.
“Juan De Jesus was in the starting lineup last year with five seniors,” Dawidowska said. “He has had a lot of experience to play a really high level of mature volleyball,”
Cleveland dropped the second set 26-24, but the Tigers were able to regroup from the second-set loss behind nine kills by Oaie.
“I did not feel any pressure,” Oaie said. “I wanted to keep my team together and win the city championship.”
The improved Grover Cleveland team got better as the season progressed. They also knew that winning the first set was important and learned how to play in high-pressure situations this season. It paid off with a historic crown.
“We have gone to three sets in every game in the playoffs expect for the first round,” Dawidowska said. “We are used to playing three sets. That’s the game we know, so I told them I don’t mind losing a second set, this is what we do.”