Firehawks come close in historic CIF run but fall short of State Championship win
March 22, 2022
In a low-scoring, back and forth game, with hundreds of opposing fans in attendance and an enthusiastic but small contingent from Shalhevet, the Firehawk girls fell short in the CIF Div. V State Championship March 11, dropping to the San Domenico Panthers of Northern California 38-27.
The game took place at the arena of the NBA Sacramento Kings – the Golden 1 Center – where the court was painted with CIF logos. It was also televised on Spectrum Sportsnet.
It was the first appearance by any Shalhevet team in a statewide CIF championship.
Firehawks Assistant Coach Andrew Schultz said playing in a big arena takes time to adjust to, which might have contributed to the team’s struggles. The size of an NBA court is also 10 feet longer than a high school court.
Other factors might have been the injury of star shooter Yalee Schwartz, an imbalance of fans, and a lot of missed shots. Over the course of the game, the Firehawks made nine out of 40 shots from the field and six of 19 free throws, with 21 total turnovers.
The arena can hold 17,600 fans for an NBA game and was therefore mostly empty for this game. There were approximately 300 San Domenico fans and about 30 from Shalhevet.
The drive to the Golden 1 Center from San Domenico High School in San Anselmo, located in Marin County just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, is about two hours, while Shalhevet fans would have to take an hour-long flight to Sacramento.
San Domenico canceled school for the day and bussed students out to the game.
But whatever the reason, the loss hurt.
“It’s just all the hard work dating back until the beginning of working with these girls,” said Coach Schultz, reflecting on the loss, “and then in 32 minutes it’s over and you don’t get the result you’re looking for. And it is crushing.”
My hat’s off to their team and their coach…. I thought they played an unbelievable game to get to [the State Championship] because I thought we would be playing the other team.
— San Domenico Head Coach Mike Fulton
The game began with the momentum towards the Firehawks, but that quickly changed.
Sophomore Yalee Schwartz, one of Shalhevet’s frequent high scorers, was injured after six minutes and was unable to return for the remainder of the game. Before she was hurt, the Firehawks were winning 4-0 with 2:48 remaining in the first quarter; soon after, the Panthers began to score.
The Panthers scored their first points of the game with only 50 seconds remaining in the first quarter. The quarter ended with a tight score of 7-4, Firehawks’ lead.
It didn’t last long. After the first three minutes of the second quarter, Panther guard Lily Reeser made a three-pointer, tying the game at 9-9. The Panthers then made a quick layup to take the lead, but sophomore Arielle Grossman responded by making her first three-pointer of the game, and the half ended with the Firehawks still ahead, 14-11.
In the second half, the momentum shifted away from the Firehawks, and after the first two minutes of the third quarter, the Panthers went ahead and never turned back – maintaining the lead for the rest of the game.
San Domenico scored 13 points in the third quarter, while the Firehawks only scored seven. The quarter ended with the Panthers ahead 24-21.
The fourth quarter saw the lowest scoring for the Firehawks with six points. But it was the highest for the Panthers, who scored 14. The Panthers pushed ahead to a comfortable lead and defeated the Firehawks 38-27.
Lead scorers for the Firehawks were team captain senior Talia Tizabi with nine points and Arielle Grossman with six.
For the Panthers, lead scorers were Lily Reeser with 12, Noku Mukukula with seven, and Avery Conklin with seven.
At a news conference after the game, Firehawks head coach Ryan Coleman said it was tough for the team to lose Yalee in the first quarter, but that other factors contributed to the team’s loss, including subpar shooting.
“I don’t have to look at the stats to know how poorly we shot the ball from the field and the free-throw line,” said Coach Coleman in a clip from the conference posted on Twitter. “Losing our most dynamic player in the first quarter kind of took the wind out of our sails.”
In spite of the stadium’s size, CIF allowed only two media passes to each team, and Shalhevet officials gave both of the school’s passes to team photographers. Boiling Point staff viewed parts of a recording of it on social media.
Head Coach Mike Fulton of the San Domenico Panthers spoke with the Boiling Point on March 14 and said he’d prepared for the game by watching a film of the Firehawks playing. He also thought the Firehawks missed shots during the game that they would usually make.
“Our defense was a big difference in the game,” said Coach Fulton. “We wore them out. They didn’t have a lot of depth, and by the fourth quarter you could see they were really really tired.”
He also said that he was impressed that the Firehawks were able to reach the State Championship and that he’d been expecting to play the Victory Christian Knights – the team the Firehawks beat 62-52 in the Southern Region Championship on March 8.
“My hat’s off to their team and their coach,” said Coach Fulton. “I didn’t think we would be playing them after seeing the film on the team they beat on Tuesday. I thought they played an unbelievable game to get to [the State Championship] because I thought we would be playing the other team.”
Sophomore Kira Kupferman, who plays shooting guard, said the team’s struggling shooting was a big reason for the loss.
“We were all just so angry,” said Kira, recalling the game’s final buzzer. “We were so surprised because we really thought that once we were winning at the beginning and ahead of them most of the time – but then it just went down.”
In the regular season, the Firehawks played without Yalee Schwartz for about one month and a half, while she dealt with a foot injury. Coach Schultz said that even though Yalee fell to injury early in the game, he still held hope that the team could win.
“When she actually went down in the game I was like, ok, well we got here without her, let’s see if we can finish the job without her,” said Coach Schultz.
Yalee told The Boiling Point in a text message that she tore two ligaments around two months ago, and reaggravated it at the game last Friday. She added that she is getting an MRI soon, but the injury should only keep her inactive for a few weeks.
When Yalee was taken out of the game, Kira went in as her replacement.
“I had a lot of pressure on me,” said Kira. “I felt like some of the weight of the game was on my shoulders.”
Back in Los Angeles, Shalhevet hosted a watch party in the school gym, where students gathered to watch the game on a projected screen. A special schedule was sent out to the students for that Friday, carving out one-hour-and-40 minutes of the school day to watch the game.
Sophomore Chaim Cohen, who played basketball on the JV boys team earlier this year, said it was fun to cheer on the team, but it wasn’t the same as being at the game in person.
“I’m not gonna lie and say it was an incredible experience,” said Chaim. “But it was what I expected. It was a big game, a big turnout. We got hype.”