Vixens Win Girls’ Volleyball City Championship
The Vixens defeated the Hunter Hawks to capture Stuyvesant’s first girls’ volleyball city championship.
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Senior Talia Kirshenbaum of Stuyvesant’s girls’ volleyball team, the Vixens, bounces the volleyball once and spins it in her hand before winding up and serving it across the net to the one-seeded Hunter Hawks. Hunter returns the serve, which is bumped by senior and co-captain Hanah Jun straight into the air. Sophomore Isabel Leka settles under the ball and floats a beautiful set to the outside where fellow sophomore Anaïs Delfau leaps to meet the ball in the air, just like the thousands of practice balls the team has worked on. Delfau slams the ball home before the Hawks have a chance to react. Game over. Delfau’s kill finished off Hunter in a 25-17 Vixens victory, giving the team their first PSAL city championship in Stuyvesant history.
This win can be summed up with one word: resilience. Hunter jumped out to an early lead and coasted to a first match win 25-13. They had momentum, and coach Vasken Choubaralian’s timeouts seemed to have little effect on the Vixens. Hawks’ junior middle blocker Hillary Zeng had a commanding presence at the net, blocking numerous Vixen opportunities they would normally convert and spiking several of her own for kills. “I think they were a little overexcited and a little too tense,” Choubaralian said.
However, Choubaralian had faith in his team. “After the first set I didn’t say much to them at all. I trust in my captains and my other girls that they can figure things out on their own,” he said. While the captains talked to the team, the one who maybe had the most profound impact might have been Leka, the sophomore, who reminded the team that this was only the first set—there were still two to go.
This mental reset worked wonders, as Stuyvesant countered back in the second match, winning a back-and-forth set with numerous impressive plays, finally pulling ahead for a 25-20 victory. When asked what changed from the first set, senior and co-captain Ally Archer said, “I think we knew we could play better than we had, so we basically told ourselves that the first set was in the past so we needed to move on and play how we knew we could play.”
After bringing the score even at one apiece, the Vixens again jumped out to an early lead, this time coasting to victory. Hunter never found itself within five points, and Delfau’s final kill sealed the win.
Upon winning the championship, the entire team stormed the court. “Right after I scored the last point, I just remember the team swarming the court and cheering because there was definitely a lot of tension during the last rally, and it was being all released,” Delfau said. Stuyvesant fans in attendance, which included Principal Eric Contreras, Assistant Principal of Physical Education Mr. Moran, and Athletic Director Peter Bologna, were jumping out of their seats.
The championship signaled a shift from Vixens teams of previous years. Last year’s team was also the number two seed, but was upset in the second round by 15-seeded Laguardia High School. “Last year we had amazing players, maybe perhaps even more skill than we did this year, but the difference was that this year, we have a team of people who always trusted each other and played to the best of not only our ability. We were always just covering each other and bringing up each other’s energies,” Jun said.
Members of the team shared similar viewpoints to Jun’s. “We weren’t just a team this year; we were a family. Hanah and Ally did a fantastic job fostering a sense of community among all of us and setting up a warm atmosphere that I hadn’t seen on varsity before,” senior Victoria Gorelik said.
This team had a primarily senior starting lineup, and their veteran experience and leadership carried the team, starting with captains Archer and Jun. “I think we had really strong leadership this year in Hanah and Ally,” Kirshenbaum said. “They both led by example on the court and off and made everyone on the team feel cared for and important. Without them, there’s no way we could have gotten to the championship.”
Archer and Jun also made sure that their coach was on the same page so as to keep the team united and working toward a common goal. “As a coach, everyone expects them to learn from me, but I think this season I learned more from them; I learned how to be a better coach because of my tough loss last season,” Choubaralian said.
During the regular season, the Vixens faced little resistance from opponents. The team went undefeated atop the Manhattan A South/East Division, allowing them to claim the second seed in the playoffs. Stuyvesant did not lose a set until their fifth game against Lab Museum United.
After an unexpectedly challenging opening round matchup against John Jay Campus which required six Archer aces in a 2-1 victory, the Vixens breezed through two quality opponents in Long Island City High School and Susan Wagner High School to set up the finals against Hunter.
While the championship win was not a one or two player effort—the entire team worked to get the team there—some contributors had larger impacts than others. In particular, the presence of Leka at the setter position consistently steadied the Vixens throughout the season. “As a setter in volleyball, you have the biggest responsibility—the toughest job on the court. She did such an amazing job as a first year starting setter,” Choubaralian said. She recorded 56 assists in just four playoff games. Her presence, though, extends beyond what shows up in the scorebook. “Leka is a truly incredible athlete. If anyone is unclear about where the magic comes from on our team, I honestly believe it’s her,” Kirshenbaum said. She and fellow sophomore and outside hitter Delfau will form a dangerous tandem for the coming years. “Sophomore starters in the finals [took] us there, [Delfau] had some great kills; she’s a great player all around, and Leka’s sets are amazing,” senior Alina Luckey said.
The first city championship won by the Vixens was (probably) not won by the most talented team in Stuyvesant history. Instead, it was won by the team that played with chemistry and grit no matter the odds they went up against. Archer, Gorelik, Jun, Kirshenbaum, and Luckey, the five seniors of the team, completed their Vixens careers as city champions. Delfau, Leka, and junior Corinne Pita, among others, will look to carry on their legacy next season.
When asked to reflect on the season, the seniors will look back fondly. “Toward the end of the season, I got the feeling that I was part of something special that I would be proud of and remember fondly for the rest of my life. I love volleyball as a sport, and to be part of such a strong team with such a strong bond is something truly rare,” Kirshenbaum said.