Everything about the PSAL ‘A’ volleyball final made sense.
There was Francis Lewis on one side and Cardozo on the other, division rivals that owned the city this season from a public school standpoint.
There were two games as close as can be, replete with accurate, dead-on hitting, breathtaking digs, pinpoint serves - exciting, technically-sound volleyball at its best.
“This was perfect,” Lewis senior setter Jen Dortch said. “I’ve been waiting for Cardozo in the finals. They wanted it, we wanted it, and I had no doubt that we would have a great game against them.”
The final three points of the volleyball season were even more appropriate - with Dortch turning nothing into something and Alicja Pawelec, her dynamic sophomore middle hitter, turning that something into a Lewis point and eventual city championship, 25-21, 25-22, at York College Saturday evening, their third city championship in seven years and first since 2003.
“It feels good, it feels right,” Dortch said. “It was right for me to be on this team, it was right for me to win my senior year.”
The final point followed the exact script. The ball floated to the near side. At just 5-foot-4 and slightly out of position, Dortch was unable to corral it properly, so she bent her torso backwards as if she was doing the limbo and set it backwards towards the middle of the court without even glancing over at Pawelec.
“It shows she can do anything from anywhere on the court,” Pawelec said.
The ball floated right to the on-rushing Pawelec, who instead of slamming it down, as she had on numerous occasions, pushed it over the net where a Judge wasn’t.
“I was just hoping not to mess up,” Pawelec deadpanned.
Naturally, she didn’t.
Cardozo’s senior hitter, Mallory Grubler, made a headlong dive, keeping the point alive for a fleeting moment. But she didn’t get enough air under the ball. It bounced off her back, and fell harmlessly to the ground, sending the Patriots into a delirious celebration that began in a massive group hug and led to tears and shrieks of joy and despair on each side.
“Every point was played like it was the last point of the game,” Cardozo coach Daniel Scarola said. “I loved watching it; I loved being a part of it. I told them I’m proud of the effort they gave.”
“They deserved it,” said Cardozo’s senior hitter Christine Luebcke as she choked back tears. “I’m upset the season’s over, but we played great.”
Especially, Dortch and Pawelec, the city’s premier setter-hitter combination. When she arrived at the Fresh Meadows school last fall, Pawelec was new to the sport. She picked up the game immediately though, helping lead the Patriots to the final.
She didn’t stop there, playing club with Creole Big Apple, only to return this fall far improved. Because the Patriots deploy a varied attack - sophomores Cherees Sheen and Euginia Anthony are also mixed in - she was just 17th in the city and second in Queens 10-A to Grubler in kills. But Pawelec put on a show in the playoffs with 48 kills, including 12 kills, nine service points and four digs in the final.
“By the time she’s a senior,” Lewis coach ArnieRosenbaum said, “she’ll be the best player we ever had.”
Of course, the Patriots season begins and ends with Dortch. Unquestionably the premier setter in the city, she became the all-time assists leader in school history and finished her career with over 13,000. Like Pawelec, she was brilliant in the postseason, registering 79 assists, culminating with her 20-assist performance against Cardozo.
“I’ve had good setters,” Rosenbaum said. “She’s the best one I’ve ever had.”
Against the Judges, Lewis (19-7) needed more than Pawelec and Dortch. In the first game, they had nearly blown a 20-13 and were clinging to their advantage, up 22-20, until Sheen stepped up, winning two of the final three points.
Behind Luebcke and Grubler (12 kills), the Judges (17-5) raced out to an early lead in the second game which they maintained much of the way. Lewis, though, would catch them and the tandem of Pawelec and Dortch finished the job.
“This,” Dortch said, “was our year to win.”