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Spirits exceed expectations

Before last year, Dalliana Toussaint was the pseudo coach of the Secondary School for Law, Journalism and Research girls’ volleyball team. Except there were no games and, well, there wasn’t exactly a team, either.

“I’ve been trying to teach the girls in gym,” the senior said.

Toussaint is a seasoned club volleyball player and one of the most talented outside hitters in the PSAL. But her school didn’t have a volleyball team, so no one — except for coaches and players with the Creole Big Apple volleyball club — knew of her excellent abilities.

From December to June the last four years, she got her volleyball fill with Creole. But there was a major void. She never had a chance to represent her school as an elite athlete in her sport.

That has all changed, now, though. The Spirits don’t just have a team, they’ve made their mark on the entire PSAL.

Last month, SSLJR beat Midwood to snap the Hornets’ streak of four seasons without a loss. On Monday, the Spirits fell to their new rivals, 25-19, 26-28, 25-16, in a tiebreak that decided the Brooklyn 3-A champion.

They will enter the postseason, which starts Saturday morning at Hunter College, with a 9-2 record in only their first year as a varsity program.

“It’s beyond my expectations,” said coach Mike Salak, who started the program in the developmental league last year.

How can it not be? Secondary went from not even existing to pushing Brooklyn’s perennial powerhouse for the division title. Salak knows all about Midwood’s volleyball prowess, too. He was a star player on the Hornets’ boys’ team before playing at LIU-Southampton and then overseas in Belgium, Switzerland, Portugal and Spain.

“He’s an excellent coach,” Midwood coach Thomasina Lenzi said of Salak. “We never looked past this team when we knew he was coaching them.”

Salak is a teacher at the school and, with his volleyball pedigree, it didn’t take him too much convincing to start the program. Luckily, a few pieces were already in place. Some players had prior volleyball experience and, of course, Toussaint is one of the very best around.

“I knew that athletically I had the potential to be this good,” Salak said.

Senior Kerley Pierre led the division in blocks (18) and was second in kills (42), senior setter Abigail Alphonso finished second in Brooklyn 3-A in assists (71) and Toussaint, whose defense is near equal to her swinging power, was tops in digs (71). Sophomore Dayna Scurry also had a big season, making her coach hopeful about the future.

“We have a nice young team coming up,” Salak said.

He never went easy on his team, Salak’s players said. Toussaint said that’s what has made them able to compete with some of the better teams in the city so quickly.

“He would literally hit the ball as hard as he could at us so we could dig it,” Toussaint said. “He was tough on us.”

And, in turn, SSLJR is pretty tough on its opposition. Just ask Midwood.

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