The Flight to Victory

Stuyvesant’s girls’ golf team, the Birdies, were able to continue their dominance as they pulled off the feat of going undefeated and claiming the title of back-to-back city champions.

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By Margaret Castiglia

Coming off a championship-winning season, Stuyvesant’s girls’ golf team, the Birdies, were tasked with the challenge of defending their title. Despite the high expectations following their success last season, the Birdies demonstrated remarkable composure and skill as they marched toward another city championship. Once again going undefeated in the regular season, the Birdies were dominant in every game, never dropping more than a match in any of their games. Victory felt within reach as the Birdies entered the playoffs as the top seed in the city. However, they knew they still had to win three matches before they could bring home the banner and call themselves the champs once more. Thus, the team remained unfazed and poised as they approached the defining stretch of their season.

The journey to this point was not a stroke of luck but a result of the Birdies’ dedication. Despite logistical challenges that prevented regular practices, the team invested significant time during the summer and weekends to hone their skills. Aside from team dinners and bake sale fundraisers that the Birdies hosted for team bonding, the players exhibited a remarkable self-motivation that fueled their determination to succeed. “We take these opportunities and others (commutes, warm-ups, online messages) to motivate each other throughout the season, but much of it comes from the individual players,” senior and co-captain Stella-mai Duquette said.

The introduction of PSAL’s All-Access program last spring has allowed teams to recruit players from other schools that don’t have a team for that sport. This program enabled the Birdies to add freshman Yasmina Oralkhan from NYC Lab School and junior Caitlyn Kraft from The Clinton School. These players, along with the existing talents at Stuyvesant, allowed the Birdies to have strong players in all positions. “We simply had a deep team that our opponents couldn’t match,” coach Emilio Nieves said.

Earning a first-round bye because of their top seed, they started the playoffs in the quarter-finals against a Francis Lewis team that had advanced through a Tottenville forfeit. Though both teams entered the game fresh, the Birdies emerged victorious in straight matches. Advancing to the semi-finals, the Birdies were set to face Fort Hamilton, a familiar opponent from semi-final matches during the previous two years. After putting in countless hours of hard work, the Birdies were well-prepared for the semi-finals. Unlike last time, the outcome was far from close, as the Birdies dominated in a decisive 5-0 victory. Many players managed to win their matchups against the same opponents from the year before, making the victory even sweeter.

Accustomed to the intense competition as the reigning champions, the Birdies approached each match in the final against Benjamin N. Cardozo High School with unwavering confidence, grounded in their meticulous preparation. The initial matchup between Oralkhan and Cardozo’s Ava Chu set the tone. Despite Ava Chu’s best efforts, Oralkhan was able to secure a victory through her accurate and smooth shots. In the second match, junior Jade Chu aimed to maintain the lead against sophomore Ga Hui Lee from Cardozo. The competition was fierce, with Lee matching all of Jade Chu’s momentous plays and narrowing the gap. However, as the match unfolded, Jade Chu’s consistency proved crucial, resulting in her win and boosting the Birdies’ lead to 2-0. Despite the early 2-0 lead, the team was not going to let up, guided by the captains who not only maintained sportsmanship but also strategized effectively. Senior and co-captain Jaya Bijoor, freshman Nina Benson, and Kraft gave it their all, channeling the team’s excitement to finish off the championship. As a result, the final three bouts saw Stuyvesant’s success, concluding in a triumphant 5-0 final score and securing the city title.

The Birdies’ success extended beyond their playoff dominance. They not only swept their competition in all three rounds of the playoffs but also excelled at the PSAL Girls Individual Championship. Specifically, Oralkhan and Jade Chu claimed second and fourth place, respectively, with Jade Chu qualifying for the New York State Federation Championship for the second consecutive year.

As the offseason begins, the Birdies prepare for a transition in leadership with seniors and co-captains Duquette and Bijoor graduating. Yet, there is optimism that the team will continue striving in the hands of present and future team members. “Next season, I hope the team keeps the [championship] streak alive and has fun doing it,” Duquette said.

Not only will their leadership be missed, but other things will surely take a hit as well, such as their Instagram page. “I hope [that] the Instagram account is taken care of and [that] there’s a group photo every game. Maybe Mr. Nieves could take some photography lessons after we leave,” Duquette joked.

With back-to-back championships after a 13-year drought, the Birdies have shown that hard work and dedication do pay off. Now all eyes turn toward the Birdies as they continue to make the fairway their playground, showing that the sky’s their limit.