All year, Rafaela Mascarin was a stabilizing force for the Columbus girls’ volleyball team. She was the missing piece for the Explorers when she moved to the Bronx from her native Brazil in February.
With her, they won their first five matches. After she injured a ligament in her right thumb against Clinton on Oct. 16 and missed five matches, Columbus dropped three of its last five. It was the deciding factor in the team getting seeded No. 24 in the PSAL Class A playoffs.
“It threw everything off,” coach Juan Torres said of Mascarin’s absence. “She covers a lot of ground.”
Mascarin was back for the playoffs, though. And with her help Columbus shocked No. 9 Hunter College HS, 25-17, 25-23, in the first round Saturday at Hunter College in Manhattan. The junior outside hitter had six kills.
Columbus takes on No. 8 Seward Park, which beat No. 25 Bayard Rustin, on Sunday back at Hunter College.
“I was surprised when I saw the PSAL website and we were 24,” Torres said. “I thought we deserved a higher seed.”
Then Columbus went out and proved it against one the city’s perennial powerhouses. Senior setter Pashke Gjini had 11 assists and senior Elizabeth Mirashi had four kills for the Explorers, who play a different style than Hunter was used to, Headhunters coach June Piniewski said.
With Mascarin leading the way, Columbus attacks on the first and second bounce while Hunter plays against teams that typically bump, set and spike. Mascarin, a smart, savvy player, has competed in volleyball all her life. Her father, Dermeval, is a coach in Brazil. She moved to the United States in February to live with her aunt, Debora.
“I like it, but Brazil is better,” Mascarin said with a laugh.
Hunter finished the regular season undefeated in league play and the Headhunters were disappointed about the outcome of the match.
“It’s not about seeding,” Piniewski said. “We could have lost all season. The only thing that matters is the playoffs.”
Last year, Hunter made the semifinals in Piniewski’s first season – “I walked into a powerhouse,” she said – but lost seven seniors, including five starters. The Headhunters were still able to win Manhattan 5-A, led by the play of senior setter Francesca Sosnowski. Junior outside hitters Nicole Zelek and Thea Goldring and junior middle hitter Gail Sanders are all back next season.
As for Columbus, it was a veteran group that was without a key ingredient. Mascarin filled that nicely during the regular season and did so again in the postseason.
“If we play like that,” Torres said, “we can compete with any team in this league.”