Boys finish fifth at Glouberman but regroup to win Milken


Ezra Fax

EFFORT: Shalhevet’s Sammy Ellenhorn leaps over TABC defense in Game 4 Nov. 10. The Firehawks won, 44-42.

By Jacob Joseph Lefkowitz Brooks, Staff Writer

Improvement was a main topic for the Firehawks after the Steve Glouberman Tournament last month. Dealt a crushing and unexpected defeat at the hands of MTA in their first bracketed game, they finished in fifth place overall in the second annual Shalhevet-hosted event.

But once Glouberman was over, everything changed. By mid-December, the Firehawks were champions of the Milken Classic Tournament, which hosts eight local teams.

“Going into the [Milken] tournament we knew we had won back to back to back titles and we knew we had something to prove,” said senior forward Edan Sokol. “We knew everyone was out to get us, and I think that we showed up and played the game as capable as we could, and won.”

That went a long ways toward solving the sting of losing badly at Glouberman. Players said they accomplished it by becoming personally closer.

“I think the team is finally starting to like each other, as opposed to Glouberman where were a team but none of us were on the same page,” said senior captain Eitan Halpert in December.

“We started eating lunch together and we all hang out now,” Eitan said. “Every day we keep getting closer and closer. And that definitely impacts us on the court.

The Glouberman Tournament – the second-ever invitational contest held in Shalhevet’s gymand nearby sports venues – came first. Playing on their home court before an enthusiastic afternoon crowd, the Firehawks had their first matchup against the TABC Storm of Bergen   County New Jersey.

Though it was early in the season, the Firehawks had entered the contest with high hopes. Last year, the boys finished third; this year they had hoped to win it all.

“The expectations were we were going to win it,” said Edan. “We thought we were the best team there.”

But it was the first time this group had competed together, and after winning the first two games, they faltered, losing to MTA of New York City. They would go on to lose to Valley Torah as well.

The game was tight throughout. But after a controversial foul call with seconds left, the TABC coach was hit with two technical fouls which ended up giving Shalhevet the close win 44-42.

“I thought we were very sloppy and didn’t play well at all,” said Firehawk Coach Ryan Coleman. We didn’t play team basketball, didn’t buy in on defense.”

In the second game, Shalhevet faced off against Elitzur Petach-Tikvah, the first Israeli team to play at Glouberman. Shalhevet blew them out 62-40.

After going 2-0 in the preliminary rounds, the Firehawks were ranked the 2nd seed. They went on to face the seventh-seeded MTA, led by point guard Eli Grunberg and shooting guard Aryeh Halpert.

The Firehawks were led by sophomore guard Zach Muller, who scored 16 points and paced the team to an eight-point lead at the end of the first quarter. But in the second, MTA came back with a furious run and led at halftime 28-25. In the third quarter, MTA’s Aryeh Halpert drained three three-pointers and the score was 42-38 for MTA.

The fourth quarter was a true battle, with only a combined 18 points scored. Eitan Halpert drained a three to give the team the lead for the first time since the second quarter with 5:50 left.

The game then went scoreless until MTA’s Josh Klein made a pull-up jumper with 2:48 left. MTA would hold the close lead to the very end. The final score was 50-47.

“That’s why you play basketball,” said MTA Coach Shlomo Weissberg in an interview after the game. “The game could have gone either way, but luckily we came out on top.”

After this tough loss, many of the Firehawks were downcast and Coach Coleman was disappointed.

“I don’t think we could have played any worse,” Coach Coleman said at the time. “We didn’t play as a team, didn’t play hard, didn’t execute. I didn’t coach well. We lost as a team.”

Eitan Halpert had scored 25 points – a Firehawk tournament high.

“[Eitan] scored a lot of points but turned the ball over way too many times,” Coach Coleman said. “He kept us in the game with his offense though.”

Next, Shalhevet played the Valley Torah Wolfpack and their star junior shooting guard, Ryan Turrel. The winner of this game would get a chance to play in the consolation game for third place.

It was close throughout and very physical, but Shalhevet couldn’t win that one either. Many fouls were incurred by both teams. But Valley Torah’s Turrel dominated, the Firehawks and scored 35 points in the game.

Going into the fourth quarter Shalhevet had the lead, but it quickly dwindled and the Firehawks lost 61-51.

“We can’t blame anyone but ourselves,” Edan Sokol said.

High scorers for the tournament were Eitan Halpert with 61 points over four games; and Edan Sokol and sophomore Zack Muller with 48 each.

The message that the team had much to improve on was echoed by many on the team.

“We’re not as good as we thought we were,” Coach Coleman said in an interview after the tournament. “We’re not functioning as a unit, we’re functioning as a bunch of individuals.”

Principal Reb Noam Weissman had a more positive outlook.

“It’s the beginning of their season, and … it’s going to be a very special one.” Reb. Weissman said after their last game.

And once Glouberman was over, indeed everything changed. At Milken, the Firehawks were faced with a tough challenge as they would have to play Valley Torah once again. This time, they won 59-37, holding Ryan Turrell to only 16 points on Nov. 29.

“I think we were mentally prepared to play that game,” Coach Coleman said. “When we played them in the Glouberman tournament, our kids were distraught that they had lost the day before and essentially had been eliminated from the tournament.”

Playing resiliently throughout their games, they would eventually defeat Mary Star in the finals at Milken 67-58 to win the tournament.

“At the beginning of our season, there was no way we could have done that,” said Eitan Halpert.

The players hope the trend continues all the way to the Red Sarachek Tournament at Yeshiva University in March, always a highlight of the Firehawk basketball year, and also in the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) games before that.

“Hopefully we can go and win Sarachek,” said Edan Sokol. “But right now we’re focusing on CIF.”