Victory at Sarachek makes Firehawks No. 1

OVERJOYED: Varsity basketball team mobs center court, joined by Head of School Rabbi Segal and Agenda Chair Daniel Schwartz, sfter defeating Frisch Academy 62-53 at YU's Red Sarachek Tournament in New York. Firehawks are now top-ranked basketball team in national polls for the first time in school history

OVERJOYED: Varsity basketball team mobs center court, joined by Head of School Rabbi Segal and Agenda Chair Daniel Schwartz, sfter defeating Frisch Academy 62-53 at YU's Red Sarachek Tournament in New York. Firehawks are now top-ranked basketball team in national polls for the first time in school history

Sigal Spitzer, Sports Editor

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With much of the student body watching a live video feed in the Beit Midrash, the Firehawk varsity basketball team won its first-ever championship at the Red Saracheck Tournament at Yeshiva University in New York March 11, defeating Frisch Academy of Paramus, New Jersey, 62 – 53 and rising to No. 1 in national Jewish basketball rankings for the first time.

Cheers could be heard in the hallways as the Firehawks extended their lead by nine points at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

“It was crazy,” said junior Jennie Drazin, who plays for the girls basketball team. “I could feel the excitement and nervousness in the room, but I think we all knew the Firehawks would pull it off in the end.”

Students celebrated at school as the players rushed the court in New York, hoisting one another in the air and jumping up and down in a huddle.

Senior and team captain Jojo Fallas was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, after scoring a game-high 25 points.  Fellow senior Ari Wachtenheim was awarded the First Team All-Tournament award, and sophomore Simcha Halpert was named a tournament all-star.

Second-highest scorer in the game was Frisch’s Judah Cohen with 21 points, followed by Seth Schlussel with 15.  Third-highest was Shalhevet senior Eitan Rothman, with 12 points.

The farthest a Shalhevet basketball team had ever advanced at Sarachek before was last year, when it won first place in Tier IV.  This time, they made it to the top of the 20 Orthodox schools that competed – Tier 1 – and then won it.

“Now we are on the map,” said Judaic Studies Director Reb Noam Weissman, who was assistant basketball coach in 2009-10. “Every year they improved. Now they are in first place…. It’s beautiful to see.”

Reb Noam was in New York for the game along with Head of School Rabbi

Segal and team chaperones Rabbi Ari Schwarzberg and Rabbi Aharon Assaraf, and Agenda Chair Daniel Schwartz.

The victory also propelled Shalhevet to a tie for first place in a coaches poll ranking the much larger group of all Jewish high schools (see story, P. 2).

Since the Tier 1 final started at 11 a.m Los Angeles time, school officials created a special schedule for the day, with a one-and-a-half hour window extending from 11 to 12:30 p.m. for students to watch without missing class.

Technology Director Mr. Yossie Frankel used the Beit Midrash projector to show the game on a large screen, instead of the small screen in the foyer previously. Lured by popcorn and school spirit, more than half the school attended, including many teachers.

Yelling and screaming at the Firehawks through the screen, the Beit Midrash was focused intently on what was happening 2,500 miles away.  During tense moments, whispers of “Defense!” or “Box out!” silenced the room.

After a swished three-point shot from Jojo or a visionary pass by Ari Wachtenheim, students would chant “Lets go Firehawks!” in support of their performance.

The annual Sarachek Tournament opened March 7, hosted by YU in its Max Stern Athletic Center. Twenty teams competed from around the U.S.

Early in the week, Shalhevet defeated Cooper Yeshiva of Memphis by 12 points and North Shore Hebrew Academy of Lake Success, New York, by 3.   Crosstown rival YULA of Los Angeles placed third in the conference overall – as Shalhevet had last year – defeating North Shore in the consolation final.

In the final game against Frisch, the Firehawks took an early lead, 9-0 in the first quarter. Right before halftime, Jojo hit three foul shots to put Shalhevet up by five points.  But the Frisch Cougars came out strong from the locker room to outscore the Firehawks in the third quarter, 17-10.

Shalhevet’s lead lasted until the end of the third quarter when the Cougars stole the scoreboard by two points.  At times, Frisch extended its lead by up to seven points, but by the mid-fourth quarter, the Firehawks were back up by nine points, staring at the championship trophy.

Then, with just under one minute to play, Shalhevet attempted to run the clock by wasting time.  Defensive fouls by the Cougars resulted in 14 foul-shot points for the Firehawks, who attained a free-throw shooting percentage at a team record of 85 percent. Without it, they probably would not have won.

Interviewed by YU broadcasters on the live feed, Firehawk Coach Colin Jamerson was asked why he hadn’t called a time-out in the game’s last minutes.  He replied that he likes the players to rely on themselves and each other as much as possible.

Players said that was one of their favorite things about their coach.

“I love playing for him,” said Jojo, “because he will let you play your game and give you freedom, and at the same time instruct you to make you a better player.”

After being presented with the championship trophy and door-size first-place banner, the team headed back to Los Angeles that night and was welcomed to school with a breakfast party in the foyer.

Rabbi Segal said it was an important moment for the school.

“While I would prefer to think the community would base their judgement of us by the happy, pasionate and knowledgeable alums we are producing or the middot of our students, I know that winning this is, in many ways, the final step in making Shalhevet a mainstream option in the LA Orhodox community,” Rabbi Segal said. “It’s just the reality.”

 

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