PASS expectations, SET the standards, and KILL the competition.

All relationships end: girlfriEND, boyfriEnd, even best friEND, but a setter and his hitter are forever.

Reading Time: 7 minutes

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By Elena Sapelyuk

All relationships end: girlfriEND, boyfriEnd, even best friEND, but a setter and his hitter are forever.

Ray Jones

Height: 6’0” (when I stand up really straight, but I’m quite the sloucher!)
Eye Color: Green, but they change color
Hair Color: Everyone tells me something different; I’ve heard blonde, brown, strawberry blonde, redhead, you name it. I’d call myself brownish blonde.
DOB: (This is the only one so far I have an easy answer for) November 11, 2000
Spirit Animal: I think spirit animals are dumb.

Choice Drink: Water. Hydration is key.
Favorite Food: Chipotle burrito, though a salad from Sweetgreen is a close second.

Do you play volleyball outside of school?

Short answer: no. There’s a team that’s somewhat famous (or maybe infamous) in the New York volleyball community called NYC Impact. For the most part, all the best players in the PSAL play on that team or on one of its rivals’. I considered joining in each of my sophomore and junior years, but never found the time with the heavy SING! schedule that went on concurrently. I’m sure that I’d be a lot better if I had made that team, but my teammates and I found other ways to improve outside of practice. We went to Columbus Park, recreation centers, and open gym events a lot, just trying to get as many touches on the volleyball as possible to get more comfortable playing, but more importantly playing together.

When did you start playing volleyball? Why did you stick with it?

Let me just preface by saying that when I was younger, my mindset was all sports, all the time. In middle school, I was looking for a new one. I went to all of the boys’ varsity volleyball games at my high school and got really excited about the sport, but in middle school we only had volleyball for girls. When I was in eighth grade, they set up a clinic that met once a week to practice volleyball. It was super low-key and not that legitimate, but it was a ton of fun. When I decided to switch to Stuyvesant for high school, I found people on the volleyball team I could get more information from. I was already friends with Jackson Deysine (‘17), and he introduced me to more team members and convinced me to go to tryouts. I didn’t have the technical skills needed to be on the team, so I tried to make it on based on my athleticism and will. I stuck with it because I loved the team and loved the sport. I strived to improve because I imagined myself starting one day and playing as well as the upperclassmen I saw in front of me.

How do you balance schoolwork and volleyball? Do you have tips for others who want to do the same?

Oddly enough, I’ve always done better in school in the spring during the volleyball season. I think it’s partially because I’m just more excited to go to school and partially because I have less free time to do work, so I am motivated to be more efficient. I’ll say that my advice is to manage your time. Everyone says it, but it’s true. You don’t need to work as hard if you work smart. That wasn’t meant to sound as suspicious as it did.

What is your strategy for constantly improving yourself?

I think the most important mindset in sports is that you always need to play like there’s someone right behind you, ready to take your spot. I mean, at one point I was on the bench and working hard to try to earn my spot on the team, so now I play hard to keep it. Even though I know I’m our starting setter and that my position is pretty set in stone, I do my best to keep the mindset that I am still working to earn my minutes, and that helps me to get better. Also, just the fact that for each of my four years we’ve done a little better than the last has made me want to do my part in improving the team further and further with each game.

What’s one of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced?

I think the biggest obstacle I personally faced was that I was almost cut from the team in my sophomore year. Choubs told me that he had come close, and that I needed to work hard to improve. That was a wake up call, and I’ve never forgotten that and never really felt secure in my spot on the team since then, which for me has been a really positive experience. I’ve worked my ass off at volleyball because I’ve always felt a little worried about my spot on the team, and it’s helped me to improve a ton.

Proudest memory?

At the Francis Lewis Tournament this year, we destroyed Cardozo in the semifinals to play Fort Hamilton in the finals. There were a lot of personal feelings between our team and theirs, and we’d also lost to them a few times in previous years, so that felt really good.

One funny thing that’s happened while playing:

I take the games too seriously in the moment to laugh when stuff is happening. But one time Sam Kim fell on the floor and then rolled around there for a while, and Kevin Mitchell stepped on him. That was pretty funny.

Which of your teammates is the funniest?

It depends on context. Nick Kim and Scott Abramowitz are probably the wittiest. Justin Chan and Jerren Dang are both just total goofballs. The whole team is pretty funny to be honest. We have good banter.

Goal of the season: The season is over. But we wanted to make semi-finals because we made it to quarters last year.

Motto to live by: “One point at a time.” I say it all the time on the court.

Shun Bitar

Height: 5’11”
Eye Color: Dark brown
Hair Color: Dark brown
DOB: January 23, 2000
Spirit Animal: Pugs or raccoons or sugar gliders (Do I have to pick one?)
Choice Drink: Piña colada with basil
Favorite Food: Japanese barbecue or Venezuelan arepas

Do you play outside of school?

I play recreationally, and for a short period of time I played 9-man, which is a different sport, but requires the same skill set.

When did you start playing volleyball and why did you stick with it?

I took a crack at it in middle school, but I was all about basketball back then. I started seriously playing volleyball my freshman year when I made the varsity team because my good friend Ziqi told me all about her love for volleyball, and it made me want to give it a try too. My freshman year was rough due to injuries, and I really didn’t get anywhere with volleyball, but the upperclassmen on the team took a liking to me and made me feel at home. I stuck around long enough to be able to appreciate the complexity of the game and compete at a high level where volleyball became fun. As soon as I realized the group we created had a shot at winning PSAL, I devoted everything to volleyball.

What do you do to improve?

I maintain my fundamentals while trying to learn more advanced skills; there are a ton of little techniques that you can utilize to score garbage points [and] small adjustments you can make mid-air to beat your opponents defense. I constantly work hard at practice and outside of school to perfect my craft.

Biggest Obstacle?

The biggest obstacle I’ve faced as an individual player was finding a way to spike around blockers that are way taller than me, particularly teams like Fort Hamilton and Aviation.

As a team, we’ve been challenged all season long to get together, run plays, and function as one brain. The more we covered each other’s backs on court, the more we found ourselves winning against teams that are more athletically gifted than we are.

Signature Move?

My signature play would be a two ball or first tempo middle hit. It is quick enough of an attack so that I only have one blocker marking me, but also high enough that I get to see the position of the blocker’s hands and the players on the court behind him. I can see the empty spots on the floor from up there, and I'm able to put the ball down 90% of the time.

Fondest Memory?

One of my fondest memories of being with the volleyball team was during my junior year at the Tottenville Tournament. It was our last tournament that year, and we managed to make it out of pool play for the first time and advanced from quarterfinals into semifinals against the top seeded team in the city. We almost managed to take a set from them, but there were some technical issues and we ended up losing. Nonetheless, we left feeling really good about ourselves. Nick Kim, Tommy Min, Sam Kim, Isfar Patwary, and I all left together exhausted yet satisfied. I had some chill music playing on my phone, the wind was refreshing, and the weather was perfect as we roamed around the foreign terrain of Staten Island looking for food and a route back home. We got on some rundown train that took forever to start, took the ferry, and saw the Hudson and Downtown Manhattan. I also almost got run over by a car. While the trip would've been a hassle under any other circumstance, with my teammates there after a long day of volleyball, it was a unique life experience that I'd love to experience once more.

Proudest/Funniest Memory?

Winning two second place trophies with my team this year at the Francis Lewis Tournament and the Bronx Science Tournament. It was also great when our middle Nick blocked Staten Island Tech's ace hitter. We've been trying to stop him for four years now.