As indicated by their impressive 46-0 record from 2008 to 2011, the Stuyvesant boys’ handball team, the Dragons, have consistently dominated the Manhattan division over the past four years.
Last year, the team finished the season with a 12-0 record and entered the playoffs as the fifth seed. The Dragons defeated Forest Hills, Bronx Science, and Fort Hamilton before being eliminated 4-1 by the number one seed Bayside Commodores in the semi-finals.
Coach Robert Sandler has high expectations for the team this year, based on its recent success in the playoffs and regular season. The graduation of two of the three co-captains, Jacques Cai (’11) and Ricky Guan (’11), has not worried Sandler the team has a returning captain in senior Eric Han. Han has been 7-1 over the past two years in singles matches during the regular season. Han also won Stuyvesant’s only victorious match in the semi-finals against Bayside last year. “We have a really strong team, so I’m not worried about replacing them,” Sandler said.
Sandler’s coaching has been vital to his team’s success. “[Sandler] is a really good leader. He actually plays handball, so he knows what he’s doing. He organizes everything very efficiently so I look up to him,” senior and co-captain Richard Hsu said.
Though the Dragons are the favorite to win their division again due to their success in past years, they still face many obstacles. Despite the fact that only two of last years seniors graduated, Guan was their first singles player, while Cai was part of their second doubles team. With the graduation of these two crucial players, much of the starting lineup is up in the air. In terms of the singles opening, the team is “going to play for it, battle it out,” senior and first singles player Calvin Chong said.
Sandler is especially looking to Chong to step up. “[Chong] is our lynchpin,” he said. “He is the main player for singles. He has to win games; he has to inspire fear in other teams. If you don’t have a very good first singles player who can beat the other top teams, you’re not going to win. It’s important for the playoffs.”
The team is comprised mostly of seniors so more time will need to be spent this season on developing its younger players. “Most of our starters are upperclassman so we’re looking forward to finding a strong new generation,” Hsu said.
The Dragons are already working on preparing their rookies for the playoffs and next year’s season. “We’re probably going to have a lot of subs playing. We use the regular season to help out our rookies and get them to understand the official rules when they play handball,” Han said.
With Sandler’s coaching, a veteran captain, a strong senior class and deep base, the Dragons hope to move beyond the semifinals of the playoffs this year, starting with their first game on Wednesday, March 21. “I think we’ll get as far as we did last year, and even farther,” Sandler said. “I think we have a good chance of winning the whole championship this year.”