Tension was high as the Stuyvesant Phoenix attempted to break a two year streak of first round exits in the playoffs. With a sea of fans donning “Bleed White + Blue” t-shirts, Stuyvesant Phoenix junior and co-captain Shannon Lau raced down the court during the first round of a playoffs game against LaGuardia High School.
She was in the open for a clear layup, when suddenly, a Laguardia player came from the other side of the court to block her shot. Lau, unfazed, went up-and-under, easily laying the ball in as the defender flew by her. The crowd erupted, and Stuyvesant would go on to win the game, demolishing LaGuardia 41-27.
Lau and sophomore Ally Archer both scored in double figures, leading the way for the Phoenix. Archer had 14 points and 12 rebounds. Lau contributed 11 points, six assists, and three rebounds. The rebounds both players picked up led to Stuyvesant annihilating LaGuardia in that category, 46 to 22.
In addition to Archer’s 12 rebounds, sophomore Talia Kirshenbaum and junior Tara Greene grabbed seven rebounds each, more than all of LaGuardia combined.
Tight defense was another key that led to the win. For much of the game, the Phoenix pressed against LaGuardia, forcing many turnovers which led to points.
The press also limited LaGuardia’s center, junior Sarah Labiner, from getting touches. She averaged 10.6 points and 14.7 rebounds per game during the regular season, and her height advantage was a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. By limiting her to eight points and nine rebounds, the Phoenix were able to keep Labiner out of the action for much of the game and forced the team to find other ways to score.
However, the next day against Bayside High School, the Phoenix suffered a 59-28 loss to end their season. The game proved tough from the start, as the team fell behind 16-4 after the first quarter, and was never able to climb out of the early hole. Much of this can be attributed to the fatigue the Phoenix faced after their game against LaGuardia, which is hard to bounce back from against fierce playoff competition. “[The game] was definitely an intimidating setting to play in, and it limited our mindset in playing our hardest,” Lau said. “On defense, it was difficult to contest against their fast paced offense. They hit a lot of threes by driving in and kicking it out.”
Coach Vincent Miller had similar sentiments. “Having the back to back days hurt us a little bit the day before we played a pretty intense game. It was very tough, and it got gritty,” he said. “Come the next day, it was a little bit of fatigue and a little bit of a hangover from the win the day before.”
The Bayside game ended a successful season for the Phoenix, finishing 12-5 in second place in the Manhattan A division, behind Millennium at 15-2. After enduring four of their losses over a rough six game stretch in the middle of the season, the team went on a hot streak, winning five of their next six to close out the season.
Lau led the team with 10.3 points and 5.1 assists per game, and sophomores Archer (9.5 points and rebounds a game) and Kirshenbaum (10.2 points and 10.0 rebounds) both drastically improved their abilities and led the team. They routinely kept plays alive by grabbing offensive rebounds for second-chance opportunities.
Considering the team lost four seniors who were all major contributors to the team, expectations were tempered heading into the season. In the end, the Phoenix blew those expectations away, playing excellently for the majority of the season.
Senior and co-captain Tiffany Ng was thoroughly impressed with their performance. “I thought the season would be really hard because we lost some key players last year, but we really pulled through. There were so many things I didn’t know we could do and it really helped us win games,” she said.
Many players on the Phoenix ended up making large contributions to the team despite their limited playing time or their position as role-players on the team. Junior Joan Ngai had eight points against the High School of Economics and Finance to help the Phoenix’s victory at the beginning of the season. Greene, in her first year as a starter, contributed three points and five rebounds per game, up from one point and two rebounds a game the season before, while playing a key role on defense. Freshman Eve Hausman provided tight defense and energy off the bench that led to a plethora of steals for the Phoenix. Sophomore Ruby Gary’s hustle and tenacity on both sides of the ball provided the Phoenix with the grit and toughness which characterized their strong end to the season. “Each girl on this team is fighting their own fight but also fighting for this team at the same time. The determination of this team is crazy,” Lau said.
Ng, the only senior on the team, will be sorely missed next year. Her three point shooting ignited both the crowd and bench alike and shifted momentum back to Stuyvesant countless times. Her 19 threes in the regular season despite being injured (ten of which came in the last four games), were more than the rest of the team combined. After LaGuardia started creeping back into the game late in the second half of the playoff game, Ng hit two quick three pointers to snuff out their energy.
Though the end to the season was demoralizing and disappointing, the Phoenix deserve to be optimistic about next year’s team. The team will largely remain unchanged, with Ng being the only graduating senior. “It’s bittersweet. [Ng] played excellent, but it is only one player that we are losing [instead of most years, where it is multiple],” Miller said. “Our four other starters are returning, and everybody else will be returning a year stronger, a year better, and a year with more practice.”
In what was an up and down season for the Stuyvesant Phoenix, the team’s closeness became apparent. They played for each other and supported each other even after the tough loss that ended their season. After the loss, the team went into the locker rooms and talked about the season, but it eventually devolved into a group roast session. “It was a very Phoenix way to end the season, and it reminded me that the reason I love playing basketball is that I get to spend time with such an incredible, hilarious group of girls,” Kirshenbaum said. She, along with Lau and Archer, will look to carry the team deeper into the playoffs next year.