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Horace Mann Lions roar in Ivy League

When the Horace Mann girls volleyball team won the Ivy League title in 2007 it was the first time the Lions took home the crown in 30 years. The sport at the Riverdale school was just an afterthought.

So when Jason Torres took over the program, working his way from middle school to JV to varsity, he set out to change the culture. He pushed volleyball relentlessly around Mann. The former player at Mount St. Vincent made up sweaters and T-shirts for his players. He started running a camp during the summer. Anything to get volleyball to penetrate the small student body.

The effort has paid off for the seventh-year coach. Aside from the league title two years ago, the Lions went to the NYSAISAA title match last year. After a three-set win against rival Fieldston, Mann is 6-1 and once again atop the Ivy League.

“We’ve improved,” Torres said. “One of our advantages was that we were so bad for so long no one expected anything from us.”

Not any longer.

The Lions have players who compete in volleyball year around and they’re one of the better teams in New York City. They fared well in scrimmages against Westchester teams like Scarsdale and Tappan Zee and finished in the top nine at the Hendrick Hudson tournament, hosted by the two-time defending Class B public school state champion.

“We wanted to show them that this is the level you need to play at to be successful,” Torres said.

Horace Mann is led by senior outside hitter Lavinia Anzai, who is a second-year starter. She didn’t stand out a year ago, the coach said, but she has emerged.

“She has improved so much,” Torres said.

The Lions are very strong defensively with junior libero Margo Penn, who plays club with the NYC Juniors, leading the way. Senior setter Belle Yoeli and senior middle blocker Leslie Crosdale, who has great leaping ability to make up for her 5-foot-7 frame, have made an impact. Outside hitter Christine Moon and right side Paris Fabrikent, both seniors, are also integral parts of the lineup.

Horace Mann plays Dalton on Friday in what Torres thinks will be another tough league match. Mann will be the favorite, though, which, up until a few years ago, would be nearly unheard of. Now Torres is hoping for the next step: city powerhouse.

“Hopefully we’ll get there,” he said.

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