Phoenix Look to Carry On Tradition of Success

Under the leadership of seniors Shannon Lau and Delaney Demark, and behind a growing youth movement, the Phoenix look to go deep into the playoffs.

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“We want to win, but our vision isn’t solely fixed on that one goal. We want to win the right way,” senior and co-captain Shannon Lau said. This statement indicates more than just a competitive desire; it suggests an extremely healthy team culture that carries over from success on the court to class off of it.

A strong team culture stems from a sound veteran nucleus, and the Phoenix have just that with three seniors entering their fourth season: Lau, forward and co-captain Delaney Demark, and guard Joan Ngai. The Phoenix have maintained a bountiful three-year run with these three on the team, averaging 13 wins a season and finishing first in the Manhattan A South League two of three times. In theory, with Lau and Demark serving as the team’s captains and Ngai due to have substantial minutes off the bench, this streak should not cease.

In practice, though, there are legitimate roadblocks to overcome, such as the fact that numerous contributors from last season are no longer with the team. The biggest loss is Tiffany Ng (‘17). Beyond offering solid defense at guard, Ng was also the team’s best three-point shooter by a wide margin, hitting 23 of the Phoenix’s 34 total three-point shots over the course of last season and playoffs. And, according to Lau, Ng also contributed significantly to the team’s spirit, chemistry, and dynamic. With professional basketball teams like the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets finding sustained success built around three-point shooting, such a strategy was bound to trickle down to the high school level sooner than later, so the departure of last year’s top performer in that department will have consequences.

According to Demark, though, the Phoenix have a contingency plan, stating that junior Kaitlyn Duong and Lau have both “demonstrated that they are more than capable of hitting threes,” she says. Being a captain that has spent multiple seasons around both Duong and Lau, Demark speaks from experience. However, this assertion has little statistical backing, as Lau and Duong had just two three-pointers combined last year, so they would have to make a quantum leap to completely fill the void.

Another major piece from last season who is no longer with the team is senior Tara Greene, who transferred earlier this fall. Though she was not a prolific scorer, averaging just over 3.2 points a game, she was a ferocious rebounder, finishing with 69 rebounds over the course of the regular season, putting her third on the team and second among the Phoenix’s forwards. However, there seems to be a young successor ready to step up. Ana-Maria Skaricic, the team’s backup center, is only a freshman, but she may already have the attitude and tenacity to play from the get-go. “Aggression is a really hard concept to teach, but Ana-Maria nails it on offense and defense and is getting better each day,” Lau said. If Skaricic is able to improve in the coming years, it could make for a fearsome frontcourt between her and junior and starting center Ally Archer, who will split time with Skaricic in the low post.

Looking beyond the lost contributors, however, there are also a number of facets in which the Phoenix have improved. Last season, for instance, the team was moribund at the free throw line, with just one player (Demark) shooting over 65 percent from the stripe. This was a legitimate issue, and may have actually been the factor that kept Stuyvesant out of first place last year. The Phoenix’s “missed about five free throws each game,” Lau said, so considering that three of the team’s five losses, including the 33-29 loss to eventual division champion Millennium High School, came at margins under five points, the Phoenix truly were a few missed free throws away from a 15-2 first place finish.

This year, however, free throw shooting seems to be a point of emphasis. “Each practice, we’re running sprints and taking 20-30 free throws in between to make us game-ready,” Lau said. With head coach Vincent Miller apparently altering practices to address such a glaring problem from last season, the Phoenix should fare much better, both from the line and in close games.

Another bright spot is the team’s immense depth, provided by its young talent. Freshman and small forward Isabel Leka, for instance, is another candidate to help fill the so-called “three-and-D” role left by Tiffany Ng. “Isabel has been phenomenally cutting to the basket, playing defense, and shooting outside the arc,” said Lau, indicating that Leka should have a primary bench role for the Phoenix, in the very least. Two other names to watch are sophomores Eve Wening and Selene Kaehny, as they have provided valuable minutes for the team so far at the guard and forward positions, respectively.

“Coach Miller may use more of a rotation that includes more underclassmen than in previous years,” Demark said. If this is the case, this could lead to both a more diverse playbook and greater rest time for starters.

In fact, according to Lau, this is already happening: “Miller and I have incorporated a few more offensive and defensive sets. I believe that variety is important, especially when we get deeper into the season and play against teams for the second time,” she says. This is smart, as it indicates that the team is already looking to the playoffs. While the lost star power provided by players like Ng and Greene will hurt and could once again keep the Phoenix out of first place, all of that is pedestrian compared to the postseason.

So, if this revamped game plan truly does pay off, and if the Phoenix get a spark from the potential return of junior forward Talia Kirshenbaum, last year’s leading rebounder, from a semester at the Mountain School, Stuyvesant could prosper in January when it matters most. While the Phoenix are unlikely to usurp Millennium High School’s throne, a run into and beyond the third round of the playoffs—something that the team has been unable to accomplish during each of the last three seasons—is very much within the realm of possibility.