After losing to the Grover Cleveland High School Tigers in the opening round of the playoffs the previous two years, the Stuyvesant boys’ volleyball team, the Beasts, managed to make the second round of the playoffs for the first time in four years. After beating the Louis Brandeis Bulldogs on Tuesday, May 10, the Beast lost to the number one seed and eventual city champions, the William C. Bryant Owls two days later.
The regular season was extremely successful for the Beasts yet again, as they extended their regular season winning streak to 38 straight games over the past four seasons. Over this win streak, they have dropped zero sets to the opposing team and dominated their division.
Despite their success, as with any sports team, there was room for improvement. Lack of experience seemed to hinder the Beasts this year. With only three seniors, and just half of the team returning from last year, they struggled against other more experienced teams.
However, “many players improved significantly over the year. That’s the main reason [for our success],” Senise said. Several players on the team developed their skills beyond expectations, such as 6’7” senior Daniel Afonin, who improved from just two kills in eight matches last year to 34 kills in nine matches this season.
Coach Vasken Choubaralian said that the team’s success was due to it being “one of the most well-rounded [that he has coached], as far as the skills of individual players.”
Though the Beasts have not lost a divisional match since 2008, tournaments have greatly tested their mettle, matching them against tougher opponents like Bayside High School, Benjamin N. Cardozo High School, and Grover Cleveland High School.
While tournaments in the past had produced sub-par results, the Francis Lewis Invitational, held on Saturday, April 2, turned out to be extremely successful for the Beasts.
In preparation for the tournament, the athletes practiced their fundamentals and communication tirelessly. “Without them, we probably wouldn’t have advanced into the semi-finals, let alone finals,” senior and captain Brian Wan said.
“Even though we had stronger players last year, we lacked communication and therefore we couldn’t really execute or play well as a team,” junior Leon Li said.
With a better mindset and better fundamentals, the Beasts entered the tournament against Cleveland focused and intense. “We just wanted to play each point and not let any ball drop,” Wan said. “Our intensity rose to another level.”
“I went into the game thinking about the seniors that graduated last year,” Li said. “Since I was a rookie last year, I couldn’t help out in the game against Cleveland. I really just wanted to win for them, and I also wanted to show Cleveland how far we’ve come as a team.”
The week before, the Beasts played in a tournament at Seward Park, finishing at a mediocre 5-5. “The boys and myself were very disappointed. We knew that we could have done much better. I think this set us up mentally for the Lewis Tournament. The guys were just hungrier,” coach Vasken Choubaralian said in an e-mail interview. “I specifically remember telling the guys at the beginning of the match that this will be their toughest game ever, but that it was a chance for revenge.”
The Beasts managed to avenge its back-to-back playoff loses against Grover Cleveland in their semi-final match in the Francis Lewis invitation Tournament on Saturday, April 2. The match against Grover Cleveland showed the Beasts’ true abilities, as they got off to a quick start, easily winning the first game. After the Tigers rebounded, the Beasts got ahead early in the third game, and did not look back. “[The match] really showed me that this team has something that we haven’t had in the past: heart,” Choubaralian said.
“For us, it’s really important to get an early lead. We’ve always had a hard time coming from behind to win games, so getting in front against Cleveland made a huge difference,” senior and captain Luca Senise said.
While the Beasts did not reach as far as they had hoped into the playoffs or end up winning the tournament, they made it past the first round of the playoffs and finished as runner-ups, successes they had never had in previous seasons. “It was definitely a breakthrough for us,” Senise said.