The Phoenix Close A Memorable Season

However, this one loss doesn’t tell the complete story of their 2021-2022 season.

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By Zifei Zhao

After a devastating loss to the Frederick Douglass Lady Lions on Thursday evening, the Stuyvesant girls’ varsity basketball team, the Phoenix, were eliminated from the playoffs, concluding their season. However, this single loss certainly doesn’t tell the complete story of their 2021-2022 season.

Led by Coach Vincent Miller and senior captains Paige Wolfing and Alison Chan, the Phoenix entered their first season since 2019-2020, as the 2020-2021 season was not played due to COVID. Their goals as a team this season were clear: “We just wanted to get stronger together, […] put everything out there, work hard every practice, [and] show up with a good attitude,” said Chan.

COVID took away an entire season from basketball and continued to impact this year’s season as well. The New York City Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL) released guidelines on winter sports requiring vaccination and face coverings during games. Even with these guidelines in place, most teams tended not to comply with them, as student-athletes across the city ditched the mask in gameplay. However, the Phoenix used the mandate to their advantage. “What I’ve noticed is that our team is practically the only one that always wears masks […] I think it made our conditioning a lot better,” Wolfing said. Unfortunately, the masks and vaccination mandates were not enough to stop COVID from impacting their season.

The Phoenix started off strong in December, amassing seven wins in their first eight games. Right as they were on a roll, players started to miss games due to COVID. “Half of our team was out for COVID at the same time in the middle of the season, and we played a couple of games where a bunch of us were missing,” Chan recalled. Games were played with missing players, and some were not played at all. The season would have a total of five canceled games, which greatly affected the final standings in the division.

The girls persevered through the unusual season and forged a connection both on and off the court. “We’re like a big family as well as a team, so I think that translates onto the court as well, because we understand each other and because we spend so much time with each other,” Chan said. The team’s chemistry was indeed evident. Finishing strong on a two-game winning streak, the Phoenix produced another statistically sound season, finishing tied for second in the Manhattan A South Division with a 12-4 record.

Facing the 18th-seeded Scholars Academy Seawolves in the first round of the playoffs, the Phoenix, the 15th seed, knew that it would not be an easy game. Wolfing said, “We came out there knowing that we had to prove ourselves to take the win.”

In the first quarter of the game, the Phoenix put forward one of their best performances in any game, outscoring the Seawolves by 12 points. Though the Seawolves would tighten this differential in the second, third and fourth quarters, their efforts came too late. The Phoenix escaped with a 58-44 victory, prompting a journey into the next round of the playoffs at Frederick Douglass Academy.

This win was one of the biggest moments for the team this season. The bench and crowd were spirited throughout the game. The high margin of victory combined with a great performance on all facets of the team greatly boosted overall confidence moving into the next round, according to Chan. Unfortunately, their next opponents were the highly decorated Lady Lions, who had finished their regular season undefeated. Standing tall with 16 wins and another in their first playoff game where they defeated the Wingate Educational Campus by 48 points, the stage was set for what would prove to be the most challenging game of the Phoenix season.

The Phoenix certainly knew the level of talent that their opponent possessed and had expectations going into the game. They would find this matchup in East Harlem to be the last of the season. The full-court press defense sent out from the start by the Lady Lions was one that would prove difficult to break throughout the game. Though they carried the energy, grit, and determination from their previous match into this one, the Phoenix were defeated 71-25 and saw their exit from the playoff bracket.

After the conclusion of the game, the team met in a small classroom and let their emotions pour forth. “I think what I’ll remember the most is just how much love all of us have for each other. It's such a tight-knit group, and it’s like a bond I don’t think you can find [in] many places,” said Chan.

Part of this family-like community was provided by Coach Miller, who managed to run a dynamic team despite COVID-related challenges. His poise and civil behavior set a key example for the team. Always putting the team over the results of the games, he gained tremendous respect from his players. The excitement that he garners in practices and games is a prime reason why the Phoenix players have been so exuberant throughout the season.

Both co-captains also expressed the amount of faith they have in the future of this team. In particular, junior Samantha Furman saw her points per game rise to 13 this year. The scoring that she provides, connected to junior Marion Rambler’s stellar 8.43 rebounds per game, show that the team’s rising seniors are a force to be reckoned with.

Their game plan looks as if it will remain unchanged heading into the 2022-2023 season. The talent possessed by the Stuyvesant Phoenix balanced with their excellent work ethic should provide for more deep playoff runs in future seasons. Watch out for the Phoenix next season, because they’re going to be back and better than ever!