Erishka De-Jesus still remembers the first time she stepped onto the volleyball court as a member of the CSAT Lady Eagles varsity squad.
She was this quiet sophomore unsure of her surroundings and if she belonged with the big girls.
“When I first came up it was kind of hard because I had to get used to the girls because I was new,” said De-Jesus, who is the Eagles starting setter.
“But I got used to it and I started helping people out and trying to teach others how to do things.”
De-Jesus, like a lot of young players, said early on a lot of her nerves centered around the fact that she simply didn’t know the other girls. So she wasn’t sure how to engage them socially.
“The first week, actually it wasn’t hard,” she said. “I didn’t talk to the girls cause I didn’t know them. But they were really welcoming. They tried bringing me into the team (circle) and getting me involved with things.”
A pure volleyball girl, De-Jesus said that the way the older girls made her feel so welcomed gave her a peace of mind that allowed her to play her best without fear of a veteran girl being jealous or losing playing time to Erishka.
“When they welcomed me I actually really did feel relieved. Because they were all seniors and I was the only sophomore and I was the baby,” De-Jesus said with a smile.
“So when they brought me inside of the group I was so happy.”
Now, as a senior captain, De-Jesus has more than earned her stripes.
She been the catalyst for the program finding its identity and becoming a team that just doesn’t roll over and play dead.
She gives the team a sense of swag and belief they can win.
Second-year coach Jamee Reinhart pointed to a very competitive match against Niagara Falls where they were trailing by 11, until De-Jesus nailed 10 serves in a row.
“She’s like yep this is my game. What are you gonna do? Are you playing with me?” said Reinhart.
“That’s the type of attitude that she has. It’s a fine line where it’s not cocky, but still presentable as a (confident) athlete.”
As a team leader De-Jesus has taken on that role of the big sister; helping others feel welcomed and nurturing the skill of the program’s youth. Reinhart said that De-Jesus’s kind, supportive way about her makes her a perfect leader who can get girls to demand the best from themselves, but also be there to guide them through the tough times.
“It’s not an easy thing to do and I think that’s what makes her the link that brings our team together,” said Reinhart
But it isn’t always easy. A volleyball first kid, De-Jesus has to bring that balance of a desire to win but also patience with her young teammates who may not have as strong of a skill set.
“I just try to stay positive and keep a smile,” De-Jesus said. “When I notice they get down or mad I just say ‘get up. Don’t get mad.'”
Though the team welcomed her in, things were far from a dream come true on the court during that first season in varsity. It was CSAT’s first year in the Niagara Frontier League so their inexperience made for some long, frustrating nights against top teams like Niagara-Wheatfield, Lockport and Kenmore West. And, quite frankly, the entire league.
De-Jesus said at times her frustration level was high and it was a challenge to contain those emotions.
De-Jesus said as she matured she got a greater sense of the big picture and what her role needed to be.
“I learned over the years,” said De-Jesus. “Because at first when we used to be a little bit behind and losing I’d get aggrevated. But then I told myself I can’t be getting aggrevated. I can’t get mad because if I get mad then I bring everybody else down with me. And I just can’t do that.”
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