How varsity girls eclipsed the short-rostered Eagles in the Battle of the Birds

By Ophir Cohen-Simayof

Originally published on January 30, 2015

The Cardinals defeated the Washington Eagles at the Battle of the Birds 60–47 on Friday, Jan. 16. The Eagles only had eight players against the Cardinal’s nineteen. This, along with the girls’ determination to win, allowed for their victory.

“With the number of girls they had, I do not think they had much of a choice, or we did not have much of a choice other than to get them tired and beat them,” varsity head coach Aki Kuwada said.

Washington took 10 minutes to score their first point. Lowell junior center-forward Francesca Baldwin and senior point guard Allyson Lui led the team and made the majority of the baskets in the first quarter, each scoring four points. But, after the injury of senior co-captain guard Karina Tom, a key player, the Eagles almost completely caught up to the Cardinals, ending the quarter 16–10. “After we lost Karina, everyone stepped up and played the best they possibly could. In the end, that is what made the difference between winning and losing the game,” Lui said.

Junior forward center Francesca Baldwin prepares for a shot in the Cardinals’ 60–47 victory over the Washington Eagles in the Battle of the Birds on Jan. 16. Photo by Karina Huft

The second quarter was a hard and slow battle. Within eight minutes, sophomore forward Emma Gleavey scored a three-pointer, and senior guard Ravina Pateleach and junior guards Tiffany Lowe and Brandi Wong each made two points. However, for every basket that the Cardinals made, the Eagles would make another. The ending score was 27–24.

“We stopped worrying about mistakes and just tried our best to show exactly who we are and can be as a team.”

In the third quarter, the game sped up again as the Eagles began to lose momentum. Both Lui and Baldwin scored four points, with contributions of two points each from senior forward Karina Garzona and sophomore guard Madison Toy. The period ended with the Cardinals leading 42–34. “We just stayed focused, kept our minds in the game, hustled and played hard,” Kuwada said.

By the time the fourth quarter came around, the Eagles completely ran out of gas, and that was when the Cardinals struck hardest. Offensively, Lui led the game with 17 points in that quarter. The turning point came when the Eagles began to continually foul Lui, allowing her to score 11 of those 17 points from fouls alone. “After that we began to play in sync and the tides began to turn in our favor,” Lui said. “We stopped worrying about mistakes and just tried our best to show exactly who we are and can be as a team. Ultimately, it was our determination to win that lead us to victory.”

Senior point guard Allyson Lui goes in for a layup during the fourth quarter. Photo by Karina Huft

Reflecting on the game, the Cardinals were strongest in half-court defense, according to Kuwada. The Cardinals did not use all of their defensive schemes, as they need to save them for the next two times that they play Washington. In this game their defense strategy was man-to-man, in the next games they will introduce new schemes, like zone. They still need to step up their offensive game.

Season Preview

As this year’s season begins, the girls’ varsity basketball team faces two new challenges: playing in a new division of the league, and coping with the loss of eight seniors from last year.

For the first time since the league began, the Academic Athletic Association split the girls varsity division in two. The AAA averaged last year’s wins, and decided that the four teams — Lowell, Washington, Lincoln and Galileo — with the highest scores will compete against one another. Each team will play each other three times for a total of nine games, then again in the playoffs.

For the Cardinals, this is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Playing a team three times, and then maybe a fourth time at playoffs, makes it very difficult because everyone becomes familiar with the plays and they can adjust, according to Kuwada. Now teams with equal skill sets can play each other, creating more competitive games. Last season Lowell wiped out Mission 52–0, despite the Cardinals’ attempt to let the other team have a chance at scoring. After that game, it became clear that there needed to be a change. “It was really the best thing to do,” Kuwada said. “Now [teams in the lower division] can win their own championship and get some sense of pride out of that; it gives them the incentive to move up to the next division.”

“Now [teams in the lower division] can win their own championship and get some sense of pride out of that; it gives them the incentive to move up to the next division.”

Along with playing in a new division, the Cardinals face the loss of eight seniors, most of them starters. Since last year, only two starters remain. To deal with this, the team went through a reloading program, where the girls that transferred from Junior Varsity went through a transition to reach the level of focus, intensity, and aggression that is required on varsity.

This is done through practice drills of shooting, dribbling, passing and blocking, and allowed the new girls to feel comfortable playing all five positions — center, point guard, shooting guard, small forward and power forward. “There are a lot of young players, just learning the system, and we have to have as much patience as we can with them,” Kuwada said. “And they will get there — they always get there. These groups of girls every year are motivated and focused. I could not ask for anything more than that.”

During preseason practices, the girls spent most of the time on defensive drills like blocking or stealing, with a few offensive drills, like dribbling and shooting; however, they still lack some offensive skills. As a solution, this season Kuwada plans on shifting the emphasis to offensive drills and taking more time to go over them in practices. “On offense, a lot of that talent is the natural ability to play basketball,” Kuwada said. “For some girls, it is just a God-given gift. But because not everybody has those kinds of gifts, we have to teach it to them.”