Remember the Hawks: Varsity Girls’ Basketball’s magical season

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A team’s season is not defined by its losses, but the manner in which the team bounces back, stronger and with a tenacity that brings each player closer. Being a part of a team is about respect for one another, for the game that you play, and the coach that is there to guide you each step along the way. A team only truly loses when it lets doubters and numbers crush their morale and diminish the love for their craft. Despite trailing by as much as 27 points, the crowd could still hear the bench enthusiastically chanting as the girls’ Varsity basketball team faced James Madison High School in the semifinals. The team fought back, feeding off of this contagious energy and finished the game strong with their heads high despite losing with a score of 49-32. Although they did not bring home the city championship, the team can confidently say that this season was not a failed attempt, but a step in the right direction.

The 2017-18 season saw the girls win the Queens A East division title alongside Bayside High School and Scholars Academy, all with records of 15-3. The Hawks entered last year’s playoffs ranked 12th, and won their first two games after a first round bye to advance to the quarterfinals. However, the Hawks suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Longwood Preparatory Academy at home after leading by over 10 points late in the game. This playoff run and loss provided an invaluable experience that would come in extremely handy for the team this season. In fact, the Hawks’ main rotation included 4 juniors and 3 sophomores during this quarterfinal run, who coming into this season all had at least 2 years of playoff experience. The tables were set for the Hawks to pull off an incredible season this year and they did just that. Senior Olivia Falba reflected, “This hunger was in each of us and I knew we were all going to try our hardest to achieve our dreams.”

The girls started the season with a huge statement game taking down Bayside High School, who they had shared their record with the prior season. Led by a 22 point second quarter surge, the Hawks finished the game with a final score of 61 to 23. The girls continued playing this exceptional basketball and won their next 5 games by at least 15 points. A deeper examination of how they won these first six games helps reflect an essential quality of the Hawks and factor in their impressive success. Through these 6 wins, there were 5 different leading scorers whose point totals ranged from 14 to 26 points. Essentially, on any given night, any one of the the girls could get hot and score a lot of points or multiple people would score about 8 to 12 points. This selflessness defines the Hawks’ mentality and playing style. As athletic director and basketball coach Lauren Caiaccia put it, “I really truly believe that they didn’t care who got credit. They were just happy to be playing with each other, having success on and off the court, and enjoying the experience of the whole season.”

In their next game, the Hawks played Bayside High School again and completed a season sweep of them despite trailing after the first quarter. The girls finished the games strong, earning a hard fought 45-42 victory. Besides this game and the girls’ first game against Scholars Academy, which they won 48-43, the Hawks dominated both their home and away games this season, consistently winning by large margins. In fact, the Hawks averaged a twenty point rout each game scoring an incredible 57.2 points per game while only giving up 36.8 during the season. The girls finished the season undefeated atop the Queens East A division at 16-0 in league play. Olivia Falba added, “This season has been a surprise in terms of… the exposure that we have gotten, that we’ve actually made others pay attention. We’ve always been disregarded because we’re Townsend, the brainy not athletic school.”

When considering the Varsity Girls’ Playoff Basketball, there is no other Townsend Harris sports event that can compare in turnout and excitement. And this year the games were even live streamed on Twitch for people at home to watch. Entering the playoffs the Hawks were recognized for their incredible performance and ranked among other elite basketball squads at third in all of the PSAL “A” division. Given this ranking, the girls earned home court advantage for their first 3 playoff games and cashed in on this advantage, winning all three. First the Hawks beat Benjamin Banneker High School 59-49, led by three huge three pointers from sophomore Julia Hong. Then the girls topped Abraham Lincoln High School 53-50, fueled by four huge three pointers from Weronika Falba and an efficient 17 point outing from Kimberly Lau. Next, the girls beat Millennium High School 50-40 led by solid block play from Rosalydia Caputo as she put up 14 points and pulled down 13 rebounds. This effort put the girls into the first ever semifinals game for Townsend Harris girls basketball.

The semifinal, however, did not start or end the way the the girls wanted as they played the second ranked team in James Madison High School at York College. The Hawks started the game cold and only managed to score 9 points through two quarters and found themselves down by 19 points at halftime. This deficit proved too much to overcome even with a 17 point fourth quarter showing. The game ended with the score reading 49-32. Nevertheless, the girls fought valiantly, playing hard to the end. In their last game as Townsend Harris Hawks, the seniors, although disappointed by the result, enjoyed the atmosphere and prestige of making the final four.

The four seniors that led this team in terms of total experience and inextinguishable motivation were Olivia Falba, Weronika Falba, co- captain Rosalydia Caputo, and co-captain Kimberly Lau. With the camaraderie that these four shared along with their dogged determination, they set the example for their teammates of how to act both on and off the court. As Rosa put it, “Whatever the circumstances were, I had to be a uniting force for the entire team and I had to be someone who always modeled what was expected.” She realized that being a team was not only about playing for the same school but maintaining uniformity in the sense of a common identity. The team has their bonding time just like any other family where they have “smoothie days, bagel days, all things that bring us together after a hard practice or before a big game,” mentions Weronika. She also believes that the team values “a time where we can talk about anything other than basketball. Trusting your teammates and feeling comfortable around them shows on and off the court.”

Breaking down the contributions of each senior is important when understanding the impact that each has on the game. To start off, Rosa has averaged 8.0 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game as the team’s starting center. However, the stats only provide a glimpse into the impact that she had at the five spot. As one of the captains, Rosa said, “This opportunity has allowed me to become a more independent and stronger leader than I was before. From working hard in the paint to get our rebounds to leading the girls on the team I have become more vocal and hard working because of it.” This vocal leadership is what keeps the players who are on the court motivated while also inspiring the novices on the bench to try to earn their playing time. What Rosa provides on the court is long athleticism, which allows her to grab rebounds from her opponents and use her body for greater access in the paint. This provides the team with more second chance point opportunities and less offensive rebounds for the opposing teams. She is a player who Caiaccia defines as “a gamer” who was a  vital component in the advancing the basketball program.

Another significant asset to the team is Kimberly Lau, the team’s starting point guard who averaged 10.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game. Kimmy is the other co-captain of the team and shares a similar experience with Rosa in leading the team throughout the season. Known as a ‘playmaker,’ Caiaccia praises Kimmy’s ability “to lead the offence as our main point guard” as the team “knew based on her ball handling skills she was the one that we wanted to be at the helm.”  Kimmy has one of the highest basketball IQs on the team, which allows her to exercise her shrewd court vision and always attempt to make the best play for the team. Whether or not the shot goes in, her goal is to make sure that the ball is always in the best situation to earn the team points. This gets the team involved and allows for ball movement, making it harder for the opposing team’s defense to keep up. She is also reliable from the free throw line, as she is 63% in the regular season but an astounding 91% in the playoffs, providing her team with key points down the stretch.  “I have always been actively involved on the team” said Kimmy when asked about her role on the team. She also added, “I made sure to encourage my teammates and motivate them to keep pushing past their limit,” which is something she takes great pride in as it allows for her leadership to manifest both on and off the court.

The twins, dubbed the “splash sisters,” have also left their indelible mark on this team and what it means to be part of a well-oiled machine. This dynamic duo consists of Olivia Falba, who averaged 13.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 3.4 assists as the team’s starting shooting guard. Olivia is a “fierce competitor and never backed down,” said Ms. Caiaccia when describing the nature of Olivia’s style of play. Although she wasn’t always at the two spot, Ms. Caiaccia added that she sacrificed her comfortability for the “best of the team” as “Kimmy took over the point.” Even though Olivia is a prolific scorer on the team, her ball handling cannot be underestimated, as she knows how to selectively draw out the opposing team’s defense.  “Ever since freshman year, I have played most games in their entirety, which is something that no one else on the team can say. Ms. Caiaccia seems to have seen some sort of leadership quality in me because she made me the point guard even though I had no previous experience in that position,” added Olivia when talking about her initial role on the team.” She takes pride in breaking “out of [her]shell” and playing “even more aggressive and focused than ever before.”

The second part of the duo is Weronika Falba, who averaged 5.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. Although her role on the team was interchangeable in the beginning as Ms. Caiaccia put it, “I think Weronika came in trying to find where she would fit in terms of being a guard or a forward,” she nonetheless found her place on the team. When asked about how Weronika’s versatility contributes to the team’s overall success, Ms. Caiaccia reminisced, “I think one of her shining moments was that game against Lincoln when she popped those threes and we had to go big Rosa, Xandria, Weronika all on the floor at the same time. We usually don’t do that, instead we rotate those positions but I think Weronika definitely matured into handling that.” She also mentioned that “one of the things that was unseen about Weronika is the way she would always communicate with the younger players on the team and make sure they were all connected.” Weronika acknowledges that her role on the team has evolved and believes that “knowing that your team and coach trust you to make smart passes and make shots is exciting” as she is lauded for her three point marksmanship. When speaking about her responsibilities on the team, she recognizes that her defense is key to the team’s success, but also “giving all my effort to my team and to encouraging my teammates.”

Ultimately, Ms. Caiaccia’s coaching that has kept the girls basketball program a winning one for years cannot go unlauded. From the atmosphere she aims to create to the mentality she instills in her players from day one, her formula is one that works. Ms. Caiaccia explained, “[I]f the players you have playing for you don’t feel connected to what you are doing they are not necessarily going to always give you 100 percent.” Even while practicing 6 days a week for 2 to 3 hours a day from October to March the Ms. Caiaccia manages to keep all the girls focused and eyes straight ahead. Sophomore Xandria described, “Ms. Caiaccia always, and I mean always, emphasizes picking your teammates up and pushing them to give it their all… we’re [always] cheering each other on until they finish and to me, that’s what makes up our chemistry.” One form of support that Ms. Caiaccia posits from her players is the constant chanting and energy of the bench. Whether it is chanting “D up!” or standing to high five a player coming off the court at the same time, it is never just the five on the court that are exerting themselves for the advancement of the team and their shared cause. That is the elegance of the comradery Ms. Caiaccia elicits from her team. Olivia added, “She is the person that brings all of us together and gives us words of wisdom before every game so that we can be our best selves on the court.”

Congratulations to the girls’ Varsity basketball team for the amazing season that they had this 2018-2019 season. They provided us with jaw-dropping games and a spectacle that will be cemented in our school’s sports legacy. We wish the departing seniors the best of luck with their future endeavors in college and beyond while also supporting the current roster to continue this remarkable journey. Ms. Caiaccia reflected, “I didn’t look at this season as just this season, I saw this coming for four years, it was just a matter of time. Last year we came up a little bit short but this year we achieved to the level we could achieve and I just think the whole process of the season was beautiful.”