A city championship was the final reward for Anyela Aquino.
The Taft senior outside hitter, who came to the United States from the Dominican Republic three and half years ago, missed all of last season because she was academically in eligible to play after a poor year in the classroom as a sophomore. The language barrier made learning tough and without her Taft missed the post season.
“I was really mad at myself,” Aquino said. “I knew I could do better, but the fact that I really didn’t know English, I was really frustrated. I didn’t pay attention. I was going to school like whatever. I’ll go became my mom made me.”
Motivated to play in college in the future and return to her teammates, including her younger sister Angelica, she pushed herself to do better. Aquino said she took double class and attended after school sessions and Saturday school to catch up. Anyela has played volleyball since she was seven in the Dominican Republic and did whatever it took to ensured the sport could give her a brighter future.
“She had a complete turnaround,” Taft coach James Longsworth said. “I’m so proud of her. Her attitude was so different in the tenth grade.”
With her back in the lineup, Taft earned the No. 2 seed in the Public School Athletic League despite a small roster. The Golden Eagles beat defending champion and top-seeded Leon Goldstein in the regular season in three sets and topped them again, 25-19, 25-17, for the Class B title on Nov. 24 at Long Island University’s Wellness Center.
It is the program’s first crown since 1991. That team also had a pair of sisters on it, according to Longsworth. Anyela Aquino, who will play at a junior college next season, had nine kills, 11 assists, 10 service points and nine digs. She can’t wait to share the accomplishment with the rest of the school.
“My school has gone 25 years without a championship,” she said. “I feel really proud I can go there tomorrow with this medal.”
She didn’t do it alone and with out some difficultly. Her sister, a sophomore, had 11 kills, eight digs and nine assists. The two, who learned the game in their home country, play their club ball with the NYC Juniors. They dominating things offensively on a Taft club that has just three seniors.
They rallied the Golden Eagles from a 10-7 deficit with a 13-3 run in the first set, including nine straight points. Taft went up 23-13 and never looked back.
“At first we were nervous,” Angelica Aquino said.
The Golden Eagles scored the first three points of the second set and scored seven straight times to go up 15-8. Goldstein never got closer than eight down the stretch.
“I knew we had to beat them the first set because I knew the two sisters were going to get relaxed,” Goldstein coach Adrian Buchhalter said.
Longsworth knows how much he relies on the sisters for points, but credited the rest of his club for why a third set wasn’t needed this time around. They limited their service mistakes and were solid defensively. Kimberly Rivera had seven digs and Karen Reyes and Nicole Ramos added four a piece.
“The sister are the offense, but the other girls playing defense, especially towards the end of the year is what probably put us over the top,” said Longsworth, who gave plenty of credit to assistant coach Jose Gonzalez.
The collective effort produced the first city since 1991. It was moment two years ago Anyela Aquino wasn’t sure she would have a chance to enjoy with her sister. The hard work paid off.
“I feel so, so proud,” she said. She is my sister. I love her more than anything in this world. I never thought I was going to get here with her.”