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After Hurricane Sandy devastated much of Lower Manhattan last year, its after effects on middle school sports Downtown were equally harsh.
More than two weeks of the fall season had to be cancelled, leading to a last-ditch attempt to reschedule the city’s middle school volleyball championship.
When last year’s championship match was finally played, the M.A.T. Dragons, from Catherine St., took on East Side Middle School, from the Upper East Side. The M.A.T. girls lost a heartbreaker after having match point twice.
And last Friday night, in front of a capacity crowd of 300 at Al Smith Rec Center, those two teams once again battled for the title of New York City’s best middle school volleyball team. E.S.M.S. vs. M.A.T.
Once again, after the Dragons cruised to a first game victory, they reached match point when they went up 24-18 in the second game, as sixth-grader Xi Mei Schmidt served for the victory. But just when the crowd thought M.A.T. had sealed the win, eighth-grader Patricia Toussant from E.S.M.S. returned the serve and won the point. She then served five straight points, with her teammate Olivia Morgan taking charge at the net, to cut the Dragons’ lead to 24-23.
“I thought to myself, ‘Oh no, here we go again, just like last year,’” said M.A.T. Coach Erin Scutt after the match. “We had them cornered, and once again they fought back.”
But Toussant’s final serve was returned by M.A.T. eighth-grader Gabi Folit, who played a clutch game for the Dragons, and E.S.M.S. had no answer. Once the ball hit the floor, the Dragons’ bench cleared out as the girls celebrated their 25-23 victory, and the crowd went into a frenzy.
The Dragons were led by all-star eighth-graders Kendal Chapman, Tiffany Yang and Nancy Yuen.
“I could not have had a better group of kids to coach this year.” Said Scutt. “They were the best teammates a coach could ask for. They didn’t care about their individual stats at all and cheered each other on with every serve and every pass. They worked hard for this and they deserve it.
“E.S.M.S. is a great team with some great players, and it’s an honor to be on the court with them in these championships,” Scutt continued.
N.Y.C. Volleyball League Commissioner John DeMatteo, who is also M.A.T.’s athletic director, said, “In years past, the winner was the team that could just serve the ball over the net, and now when you watch a team like M.A.T., they play like the girls do in California, bumping, setting and spiking on almost every play…and we’re in New York City! It’s unreal.”