From The Bay To Brooklyn: Aleah Rafat Is The Bulldogs’ Californian Comet

Courtesy of Aleah Rafat
By Oscar Docavo
   College athletes face a lot of pressure as they juggle their mental and physical health and are expected to excel both in the classroom and on the field. Aleah Rafat does that three times over throughout the entire school year. As a junior majoring in journalism and media studies, Rafat plays volleyball, basketball, and softball for Brooklyn College.

   Living up to a standard that most CUNY athletes can only dream of, Rafat has won individual accolades while assisting the Bulldogs in winning three championships: two for the women’s basketball team and one for women’s volleyball. With one CUNY Athletic Conference title in volleyball and two in basketball, Rafat firmly cemented herself as a Bulldogs legend before she was even an upperclassman. Rafat became a Bulldog because she took a leap of faith, a decision that changed the landscape of BC sports.

   Calling Rafat a star is not entirely accurate. To the Bulldogs, Rafat is one of one. If anything, she’s more like a comet, which is much less common than a star. Her team and opposition experience the duality of a comet when they encounter Rafat. Her team sees a leader, champion, and an irreplaceable teammate; a beacon of light shooting through the sky. Her opponents, however, feel the effects of a comet hitting the ground when it falls to Earth: panic and then collision marked by scorched ground.

   Rafat is an outside hitter in volleyball, a forward in basketball, and plays first base in softball. Rafat likes to say that she’s been playing sports since she was “out of the womb.” That is not far from the truth as she has two former athletes for parents, so sports came naturally to Rafat. Although she started playing softball a little later than she did playing volleyball and basketball, she has been competing longer than most.

   Born in Alaska but raised in San Martin, California, Rafat’s father was the first and most important coach of her childhood. “Looking back at it now, he’s the best coach that I’ve ever had,” Rafat said, crediting her vast volleyball skill set to the mentorship of her father.

   During her high school years in California, Rafat earned first-team all-league honors as a junior and senior after transferring to Live Oak High School. In basketball, she helped guide the Acorns to their first league championship in years. In volleyball, she was key to Live Oaks defeating their bitter rivals at neighboring Sobrato High School for the first time in years.

   Originally, the hometown hero thought she would be attending college in her home state, in her element at the beach. At almost the last minute, Rafat decided to take her talents to Brooklyn College. “This is the time to experience something completely different,” Rafat told herself before moving to a city she had never been to before. Never afraid to step outside of her comfort zone, Rafat was dropped off into the unknown in the summer of 2021.

   When Rafat came to Brooklyn College, the school was still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. With almost every class online, Rafat found comradery in the West Quad Building, forging instant connections during her first semester with volleyball and basketball teammates who would soon become her family at the college.

   Rafat took to CUNYAC volleyball like a swan to water in her very first semester. Rafat dictates play for Brooklyn College while keeping opponents in constant fear of her powerful serve. Bulldog volleyball legend and fellow outside hitter senior Ashley Fung recalled the immediate impact her teammate of three years had on the conference. “She came from the West Coast to NY, had no prior knowledge regarding the opponents in CUNYAC, and still made older players look silly,” Fung said. If they didn’t know about the new girl from California, they did now.

   Rafat made the CUNYAC Rookie of the Week award her own during the 2021 volleyball season, bringing home the award practically every week, eventually winning CUNYAC Rookie of the Year. Rafat credited the tough competition she faced in California at the high school and club level as the reason for her dominance at Brooklyn. Since then, she has also added back-to-back CUNYAC second-team all-star awards to her resume, the honors coming in 2022 and 2023 respectively. Rafat almost never rests during volleyball season as she is on the court every play of a game.

   Rafat’s finest moment in her collegiate volleyball career was recording a double-double with 16 kills and 16 digs as the Bulldogs defeated Hunter College in the 2021 CUNYAC final. It was the first time Hunter had lost the final since 2014. Rafat was honored with the team of the tournament honors alongside Fung. “She truly was the missing puzzle piece that Brooklyn needed to win a championship and make history,” Fung told The Vanguard.

   Top 10 in almost every significant CUNYAC offensive category, Rafat will be the undisputed leader of the volleyball team next fall. She will be hunting for her 1,000th kill in a Bulldog uniform next season, which would make her the second Bulldog to ever do so.

   Rafat highlighted that the secret to her big-game heroics was having her teammates as her motivation. “On any sports team, you’re not winning for yourself. You’re doing it for your teammates,” she said.

   As soon as volleyball season is over, Rafat joins the women’s basketball team. The three-time defending champions use Rafat in a variety of roles. She is a post player who takes advantage of the length that comes with her 5 ’11 height, and she can be brought on as a defensive specialist. Opponents do not leave Rafat open beyond the arch as she can bank a three-pointer with a splash that is worthy of the Golden State.

   Former Bulldogs star Megan Campbell has been coaching Rafat all three years of her college basketball career, two as an assistant and now as the head coach. “She [Rafat] just brings an energy and a passion to our team. Good day, bad day, she puts that aside for those two hours and she’s come to give you everything she’s got,” Coach Campbell said. On top of that, Coach Campbell noted that Rafat is stepping up as a real leader on the team. She is always involved in the huddle and talking to or cheering her team on.

   In the 2023 CUNYAC basketball final, Rafat was brought in off the bench to smother any chance of a John Jay College comeback. In both CUNYAC finals against John Jay, Rafat was seen fighting for rebounds, sinking clutch free throws, and destroying her opposition’s hope for a comeback with her defense.

   “It comes down to competing for your teammates. We’re gonna win together, we’re gonna lose together. But at the end of the day, this is a program that sets us up for success,” Rafat said while describing what makes BC basketball so special. Rafat is currently injured, but she is working hard to get back on the court and lend her efforts to another title push as the Bulldogs’ National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament dreams continue.

   Rafat is a solid softball player, as well. With a good ​​on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) of .471 compared to the rest of CUNYAC in 2023 and a top-10 fielding percentage of 0.974, Rafat finds ways to stand out even in her third-best sport. With a quick and powerful swing, most CUNYAC pitchers may find themselves wary of pitching to Rafat.

   Though Rafat makes everything work in the end, she noted that it is not easy to maintain such a strong work ethic. “I can’t even say I prioritize sleep,” she said. However, Rafat’s dedication and willingness to improve both in the classroom and on the court is apparent.

“[It’s] hard to tell Aleah is juggling so much. She comes to class, participates, and has improved in her ability to shoot and edit

,” BC Professor and Spectrum News NY1 Reporter Victoria Manna said, highlighting Rafat’s improvement as a video editor and natural ability in front of the camera.

   Rafat wants her legacy to be remembered as a teammate who did it all for the people around her, especially those she will be handing the torch to after she graduates next year.

   “I came in to make a difference for them [her teammates] because at the end of the day, it’s not gonna be about me because no matter what I accomplish, whatever I’m leaving, but I’m leaving doing all these things so these younger girls can succeed,” said Rafat.

   Bulldogs fans have at least one season of Rafat left in each sport: volleyball, basketball, and softball. If history is any indication of the future, Rafat will be at the heart of the Bulldogs’ success, winning with her hair braided and shining her trademark smile of victory.

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