Marlena Budna was already interested in playing volleyball. She just didn’t have any previous experience after joining the Fort Hamilton girls’ team last fall.
At 6-foot-2, Budna is a tall player on the court, but she wanted to get better. The sophomore signed up to be the boys team manager, and practiced hitting and blocking techniques with them.
“It helped a lot especially because its bigger competition,” Budna said. “They are taller and hit harder in practice. It helped my blocking because they hit so much harder.”
Those skills paid off on Tuesday afternoon. Budna was a rock in the middle of the court, recording 14 kills and nine blocks as top-seeded Fort Hamilton’s size proved a decisive advantage to earn the school’s first PSAL Class B girls title in a 25-22, 26-24 victory over Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy at York College.
The Tigers (14-0) took home the title in their second straight finals appearance after losing in three sets to Leon Goldstein last year. That was a motivating factor for Fort Hamilton from the day they convened for the first day of practice August 20.
“Last year we lost in the final so we had one goal and one goal only,” Fort Hamilton coach Richard Sherry said. “Everyone wanted to win a city championship.”
Budna and 6-foot-3 junior middle Lana Kravichenko, made a difference at the front of the net against No. 6 seed RKA. Budna, who also plays for the JHC volleyball club alongside Rozek and a few teammates, helped Fort Hamilton break a 22-all first by getting a block and recording two kills
“Marlena uses her height, she blocks very well and she’s still young,” Sherry said. “She’s still a sophomore so there’s a lot of potential there. The sky’s the limit.”
Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy (16-1) had lost to Fort Hamilton in last year’s semifinals. Tigers coach John Reingold felt his team deserved a higher seed after winning the Bronx B-East division.
RKA, which beat No. 3 George Washington and No. 2 Scholars’ Academy in the semifinals, had battled back from a four-point deficit in the second set and Fort Hamilton failed to convert on two match points.
With the set tied at 24, RKA lost an opportunity to push the game to the third set. Fort Hamilton’s Cansu Zor (16 assists) and Sarina Rozek (10 kills) recorded the game’s final two points.
“We had to overcome,” Reingold said. “We had one player hurt and one player ineligible. We had to mix and match, but the girls certainly played with heart today. We’re certainly not happy with the way we lost, but I’m happy with the way we represented.”
Just before the end of the second set, Rozek told her Zor that she would be involved in making the decisive point. Rozek displayed a large post-game smile after her intuition was proven right.
“It feels good. Right before Marlena serves, I’m telling Cansu watch me make the kill and finish the game,” Rozek said. “It felt so good to do that.”