Of the 15 players that fill out the Francis Lewis roster, just four are seniors. Only two of them - Jennifer Dortch and Anna Baran - start; the others don’t even see the court. Their two outside hitters - Alicia Pawelec and Euginia Anthony - are sophomores. So is middle hitter Cherees Sheen.
Even with that youth, the Patriots have high expectations. Beyond winning a city championship and regaining the division title from Cardozo, goals they voted upon, Lewis would like to go undefeated in league play.
They got off to a good start with that in mind, knocking off the Judges, their chief rivals, 2-1, by scores of 25-17, 17-25, 25-17, in their league opener at Queens High School of Teaching in Bellerose last Thursday afternoon.
“We weren’t going to lose today,” Dortch said. “It just wasn’t going to happen.”
The win saw the continued emergence of Pawelec, impressive although inconsistent as a freshman. She ripped home sets of all kinds from Dortch, racking up 17 in all. The 5-foot-9 Polish Ridgewood native soared above the Cardozo blockers, blistering kills from line to line.
“Any time you have a hitter like that with a setter who can get her the ball,” Cardozo Coach Daniel Scarola lamented, “it’s a tough tandem.”
Her prowess took the pressure off Anthony, undersized for a hitter at 5-foot-4. It’s just one match, but her percentage was far better than last year when she was relied upon more. She had eight kills, but also notched seven digs.
“It’s going to make her that much better,” Francis Lewis Coach Arnie Rosenbaum said.
As usual, the star of the show was Dortch (22 assists). The Patriots surprised the city last year, riding her lithe shoulders all the way to the championship game. It’s rare a team with so many freshman in important roles can attain such success. Much of the credit went to the 5-foot-3 Dortch, now in her fourth year as a starter.
“We know she’s going to make a great set,” said Pawelec, who added eight digs. “It’s just up to us to put it away.”
It has been a steady climb. As a freshman, Francis Lewis finished fourth in the city. The next fall, they were third, and last year it was a runner-up finish.
With the ultimate crown in mind, Dortch was the one who fingered the goal of going undefeated against PSAL competition.
The fiery Bayside native is the unquestioned leader of this group. Every first touch is directed to her. She perfectly sets up attacks and treats her body like a crash dummy, leaving games with court burns to prove it. She seems to know were everyone on the court is at all times. When she notices the hitters struggling, Dortch will even look to put away shots on her own, either by nudging it over the net or even the rare time she looks to spike the ball.
“I think she’s the top setter in the city,” Rosenbaum said. “She has the most varied attack. She can set in so many different ways. She able to adjust to the defense and how they are blocking.”
Like all good players, she wasn’t content with her game after the heartbreaking ending to last season. Because of her diminutive size, Dortch decided to resort to a running jump serve. Against Cardozo, she compiled team highs of three aces and 13 service points, including the first six of the deciding third game.
“After those six service points,” Pawelec said, “we figured, ‘we have this game.’ ”