Phoenix Light Up Lady Cougars in Season Opener
December 12th, 2002
The crowd is already on its feet. A whistle blows and the opening tip is tapped to senior captain Katie Connelly, who quickly dishes off a crisp pass to the cutting center, Ula Kudelski for an easy layup: the first two points of the Stuyvesant Phoenix’s season. Nearly two hours later, the crowd is on its feet again, as it is Kudelski once again banking in the last two points of the basketball game, putting the girl’s varsity squad on top, 67-66, in the season opener against AP Randolph High School. In between was a contest that featured a roaring comeback, a dozen lead changes and a buzzer-beating shot that provided an exciting backdrop to the start of the 2002-2003 season.
As the team fed off of the crowd’s enthusiasm, the Phoenix mounted a sizable lead against their counterparts in the opening moments of the game. As the game wore on, the first unit executed clean passes and executed textbook plays with fluid grace. On defense, the team orchestrated a solid rotating help defense that kept the Cougars’ attack off-balance.
Kudelski, who has scrimmaged with the likes of Murry Bergtraum’s PSAL MVP Crystal McFadden, made a compelling case for her place among the city’s elite, posting 55 points, seven rebounds and five blocked shots. Unfortunately, in the middle of the third quarter, Kudelski landed awkwardly after going up for an offensive rebound. As she lay injured on the floor, players rushed to her side and fans pondered if the season was over before it had really begun. Somehow, the sophomore sensation found the strength to remain in the game, fighting tears and the horrible pain in her sprained ankle.
Hobbled for the remainder of the game, Kudelski could not be the defensive threat she was in the first half, but she continued to run gingerly up and down the court to help fend off the comeback run by the Cougars. Randolph’s Shakeya Mervin (35 points, 6 rebounds) took advantage of the beleaguered Stuyvesant squad by draining a pair of three-point field goals and slashing in for easy lay-ups against a matador press defense. Abruptly, the Phoenix found themselves down 45-43 at the end of the third quarter.
Soon the clock read 27.3 (seconds) and AP Randolph was up 64-62. Freshman Tarhata Guiamelon, in for starter Lydia Chan, who had fouled out, calmly split pressure by two Cougar defenders and fed Kudelski in the post. Kudelski went up strong for a shot, and the referee whistled a Cougar for a foul as the ball dropped through the hoop. The whistle could barely be heard over the roar of the fans. When Kudelski converted the three-point play, the gym echoed with screams of joy.
On the ensuing possession, excellent Phoenix defense forced Randolph’s Danielle Watson to hoist up a wayward shot, but at the most critical time, the Phoenix forgot to box out: Mervin silenced the crowd with an offensive rebound and put-back.
The scoreboard read 65-64 once again in favor of the Lady Cougars while on the sidelines the potential hero, Mervin, was performing an impromptu dance that taunted the regrouping Phoenix.
There were five seconds left on the clock when sophomore forward Lindsey Newman inbounded the ball. Her pass was intended for Kudelski but the ball was deflected. Connelly grabbed the loose ball and hoisted a prayer, but her shot was blocked. Somehow, the ball found its way into Kudelski’s hands once more, and by some miracle, the ball found the basket one last time.
“I didn’t realize what the score was and I thought my shot had tied the game. So when my teammates started mobbing me, I was like ‘hey guys, settle down we have overtime’ until [Lindsey] pointed to the scoreboard” said Kudelski.
“The Phoenix had bonded into a unit early on this year, so I know we’ll go very far,” said senior shooting guard Diana Berkovits. “Our team is talented and works very well together so I knew that if our abilities didn’t prevail, our teamwork would.”
Despite the team’s impressive showing and improbable victory, it is premature to predict a spectacular, championship-caliber year as the Phoenix have a rocky road ahead of them. The team must look ahead at their schedule and get ready for tough matchups that this season has in store.
“We’re in a tough division where the three top teams eventually made it to the final four, so it’ll be hard to make the playoffs,” said Coach Fisher. Yet, the optimistic Phoenix will take this victory as a sign of things to come. As thrilling as this first game turned out to be, Stuyvesant promises that more thrills are forthcoming.
“This game is definitely the first of many victories to come,” said Berkovits, “Our team has shown that we can overcome inexperience and play superbly. I really think we can make the playoffs this year.”