Marlena Budna’s trademark shot sends the volleyball down to the court hard and fast, but the most important shot of her career was nothing like that.
“It was a slow ball,” said the Fort Hamilton senior middle hitter of the shot that clinched the school’s first Public School Athletic League Class A girls’ volleyball city title on Nov. 25. Even she didn’t think it was going to drop in and win the match.
“I thought they would play it,” Budna said. “It ended really quickly.”
When it landed, Budna put her hand in the air and was rushed by her teammates to celebrate No. 4 Fort Hamilton’s 25–23, 25–15 victory over No. 6 Susan Wagner at Hunter College last week.
The Tigers won a third-straight city crown after winning the Class B crown the last two seasons. Fort Hamilton was talented enough to play in the top division last year, but were not moved up by the league.
“To win three city championships in a row — it was just unbelievable,” Budna said. “It is the best feeling as a volleyball player.”
Wagner, which upset No. 2 Midwood in the semifinals, put up a major fight in the first set. The Falcons (18–1) led 15–9 before Fort Hamilton (13–1) began to play more cohesively. The Tigers scored seven of the next eight points to tie the score at 16–16. Alexandra Rivera and Maria Papadakos used their height to block numerous Wagner shot attempts to change the momentum.
“We didn’t play with heart,” junior setter Stephanie Rozek said. “We took a time out and said it was all about heart. You can fix your passes.”
Budna and Rozek took it from there, keeping Wagner from getting control despite leads of 22–20 and 23–22. Budna had a kill to tie the score at 22–22. She also had a hand in four of Fort Hamilton’s final five points of the set. She has shown the knack to close out teams throughout all three of the Tigers’ championship runs.
“She has a nose for the ball, a flair for the dramatic,” said Fort Hamilton coach Richard Sherry.
Fort Hamilton looked more like itself in the second set and left little doubt of the match’s outcome. Hitters Emily Visintini and Alexandra Rivera started to get in rhythm. The Tigers kept the Falcons defense off balance and allowed Budna to have a more consistent impact on the match. A well-placed kill from Rozek put things out of reach at 21–13.
Budna finished with 17 kills and seven digs and Rivera added 10 kills and five blocks. Rozek dished out 20 assists.
Sherry said he and the girls’ ultimate goal was never titles when he took over 2008, but just working as hard as he and the players could to improve. This particular group he knew was special, and all the hours on the court at practice, league games and tournaments led to winning at the highest level.
“It all paid off,” Rozek said.