Lady Knights Slay Phoenix
January 16th, 2003
It was apparent even before tip-off. Martin Luther King (MLK), a high-octane team, looked bloodthirsty after burying an opponent by over 100 points in a recent game. Stuyvesant, weary after barely pulling out a victory two nights ago, looked as subdued as the meager crowd murmuring quietly in the stands.
This was the game that was supposed to gauge how far the young team had matured this season. Despite an impressive 9-3 overall record (6-3 league record), Styuvesant’s girls’ varsity basketball team, the Phoenix, knew that they had no chance to beat MLK’s 11-0 Lady Knights, a team that has completely owned the entire city for the past three years, outside of Murray Bergtruam, which was nationally ranked #4.
Teams know that in the tough Manhattan West division, everyone plays for second place. Second place was where the Phoenix was standing right now and an impressive showing against the Lady Knights would prove that their surprising season was not a fluke. However, on this night, MLK played like their roster was full of champions, while Stuyvesant looked like a motley group of youngsters struggling to find their niche. Before the game was ten minutes old, the Lady Knights had jumped to a 19-0 lead and had muted the small group of supporters in the bleachers. The Phoenix looked tentative and played unfocused basketball. They forced passes that weren’t there and showed no confidence in their dribble and their shot. Instead of attacking the basket, Phoenix players seemed content to let their errant passes get intercepted by MLK defenders. Coach Phil Fisher’s design play “wide left” turned into wide-open lay-ups for the Knights.
Meanwhile, the league’s top two centers locked up in what was supposed to be a colossal battle in the middle. Yet the physical play of Jennifer Brown (36ppg, league’s leading scorer) revealed that Kudelski (32ppg, second leading scorer) was not ready to dethrone the MLK senior as the best female pivot player in the city. Division-I-bound Brown created her own shots with offensive rebounding and fancy footwork while Kudelski, facing a suffocating zone defense, was content to wait for a basketball that hardly came to her.
While the Lady Knights played aggressively, the Phoenix looked dazed and confused, belying the improvement that this team has made throughout the course of the season.
The 2002 Phoenix has played with a fire and passion that past teams have lacked. Within the first month of the season, the squad has steamrollered opponents and has already eclipsed their win total from last year. They were putting points on the board, nearly doubling their 2001 output, prior to the MLK showdown. The supporting cast provided energy and execution for a team eager to make noise in the PSAL.
“It doesn’t matter if you are on the bench or on the court. You give it all that you have, physically and vocally,” said Kudelski earlier this season.
Despite the loss, the team still controls its own playoff destiny. But in order to keep their playoff hopes alive, Phoenix players must rise from the ashes of their defeat and maintain composure throughout the final stretch. To keep pace with division rival Fredrick Douglass Academy who beat them earlier this season, the team needs to rally and win four of the last five games, including the season finale at home against FDA on January 22.
“We need those games: Central Park, LaGuardia and Hunter,” said Fisher, “I know that. The team knows that. We just have to make good shots and play smart basketball.”