Teeing Off to the Title
Issue 7, Volume 112
Going undefeated and winning the city championship, the Stuyvesant Birdies rolled over all competition and created another memorable season for the books. A winning mentality and a strong mindset were key to their success. “I set the PSAL championship, not as an expectation, but as a legitimate goal to work toward,” coach Emilio Nieves said in an e-mail interview. This attitude was set in the buildup to their season, ultimately being crowned girls’ golf Champions for the first time in 13 years. In addition to the championship, the team went undefeated in the regular season, dominating the league at an unprecedented level. Their transition from a playoffs team to a championship team was largely thanks to new members and a strong desire for revenge.
To understand the expectations and pressure going into this season, it’s crucial to grasp how the prior season’s bitter ending impacted the Birdies. Last season, they were a strong team and carried momentum going into the playoffs. After ending the regular season with a respectable 7-1 record, they hoped for a far playoff run, yet those dreams were quickly shut down. They were neck-and-neck in their first-round playoff match against Fort Hamilton, going into the fifth match with the score tied 2-2. Unfortunately, Fort Hamilton pulled off the win, knocking the Birdies out of the playoffs. The loss was only fuel for this year, when they eventually, as if by fate, had a chance at revenge.
As sweet as it sounds, revenge was not the only thing that boosted the Birdies’ chance of winning it all this season. With the new season came new students, and among them was freshman Sienna Hwang, who joined the team and immediately turned heads. “[Hwang] instantly became the best player on the team. Having such a great player made us a deeper team, which is the main reason why we won the PSAL Championship,” Nieves said. “Most good teams have a starting lineup of three, maybe four very good players. [Hwang]’s addition made us have five very good players.”
Hwang added to Nieves’s statement. “I think the entire team played a really big role [in] winning this year. After all, it’s the first time we’ve won in 13 years,” she said. With a strengthened roster, the team was more than ready for the season, and in their first game, they showed the city that they were the team to beat.
Facing Hunter for a team’s first game can be a blessing or a curse. On one hand, you get the hardest game out of the way and can focus on the rest of the season. On the other, you risk starting the season off on the wrong foot. Seeing as Hunter has made the playoff finals for six consecutive years, most teams believed that beating the school was unlikely to happen. However, the strong and motivated Birdies team ran over Hunter, beating them 3-1 in their first encounter and 4-1 in their second. Even other high school coaches were shocked by the result. “The [Hunter] coach told me that other coaches called him to ask about us, probably in disbelief. The [Hunter] coach said, ‘No, they are really good,’” Nieves said. The rest of the regular season was smooth sailing, as the Birdies headed into playoffs with a perfect record of 9-0.
This undefeated record was not the work of just one player, as throughout the season, their star-studded lineup shone brightly. The team worked well together, and their sense of camaraderie only improved them as a team. “We all had a really good season overall, and it’s hard to pick one person, because in the end, we’re a team, and we all chipped in,” Hwang said when asked about who had the best season. The selflessness in the team critically built the group’s team-first mindset.
Unlike other PSAL sports, girls’ varsity golf playoffs tend to be quite short, with only three rounds in total. With that being said, the third-seed Birdies easily beat sixth-seeded Cardozo 5-0 to move on to the semifinals, where they met last year’s run killer, Fort Hamilton. The second seed team was no weaker than last year, and as the game headed into the fifth match with the scores again tied 2-2, it seemed as though fate would repeat itself. However, this time, it was the Birdies who pulled off the win, getting their long awaited revenge. With that victory, they headed to the PSAL Championship Finals against fourth-seeded Bayside, with hopes that they could be crowned champions.
Rather anticlimactically, the Birdies proved to be just too much for Bayside to handle. Hwang won the first match, and though Bayside snatched a win in the second match, the Birdies took control once again and comfortably cruised to a 4-1 victory, becoming PSAL Champions for the first time in 13 years. “This team is special because it is very talented, responds well to pressure, and is motivated to succeed, both academically and athletically. We have the same team for next year, where the goal will, without a doubt, be to repeat as PSAL Champions. New year, same team, same goal,” Nieves said. The Stuyvesant body will be eager to see if this year is the beginning of a dynasty for Stuyvesant’s girls’ varsity golf.