Oradell Hawks fourth-grade travel girls basketball team overcomes adversity to win a championship title

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The Oradell Hawks fourth-grade travel girls basketball team certainly had a lot on their plate early in the regular season. They returned to the hardwood court after a year off due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and limited practice time.

Furthermore, Oradell struggled early in the season record-wise, winning just one of their first six games. Four out of the six losses were by double digits.

Head Coach Steve Lenart said at the beginning of the season, "We were hamstrung, to begin with anyway, we lost the whole year because of COVID, and we weren't allowed to do this stuff." "We were disadvantaged from the get-go, but kudos to the girls because they worked hard and bought into it."

"I think for the girls it was a little bit of culture shock, an enclosed area and it was intense than they had anticipated in the first couple weeks of the season." "They were more deer in headlights than anything else, but they grew into pretty quick."

"Other teams in our league were more seasoned than we were but we just talking to other coaches throughout the year we figured we were one of the few teams in the league that were shut down last year." "A lot of the girls that we were playing against had experience and the competition at the top end of the league was pretty good."

"You teach them a lot at this age, and some of it sticks, but a lot did with this group." "It was a mix and match talent-wise across the board." "We had girls that could play the game and a lot of the girls that couldn't walk a straight line if you asked them to, but I tell you what, all of them worked super hard." They maximized their ability the best they could, and everybody contributed.

However, the Hawks righted the ship midseason and won five out of their last eight games. Oradell locked up the third seed in the playoffs.

Assistant Coach Jason Lucey on the team finishing the regular season on a solid note, "Towards the end of the season, we had some must-wins to make the playoffs." "On the road at Paramus, we played them three times, and the first time, they got us at our place pretty good."

"The second time we played them towards the end of the season and a must win game to make the playoffs and that was a great game." "At their place for a third time and we had some really tough games with two of them being for playoff seedings." Those were the games the girls realized they had a chance of making a run.

In the playoffs, Oradell faced off against Montvale. Montvale dominated the series during the regular season sweeping all three games, including winning two of the games by double digits. The Hawks dropped a close contest in the regular-season finale, 9-7. This time around, Oradell exacted redemption, emerging victorious 8-3.

Squaring off against an excellent Tenafly squad in the championship, the Hawks faced a similar uphill challenge, with Tenafly sweeping the regular-season series and winning two out of the three games by a sizable margin. Oradell flipped the script in a close title game, winning 19-16.

Assistant Coach Andrew Pratt on the team winning a championship title, "The girls were really dedicated from the first practice and we decided early on to prioritize defense and teach them man-to-man defense and they really executed that" "From the first practice being a little sloppy to by the end of the season we gave them an even tougher task going into the championship game with only two practices to learn how to play zone."

"We only averaged about one practice, down the stretch and once we got into the playoffs we tried to get as much gym time as possible, but it was hard due to the lack of space." "We were constantly looking for ways to get gym time which was a struggle but once we got in there the girls were very focused and made the best of it."

"We played a two-three zone in the championship game, having only two practices." "They executed that well and held a Tenafly team that had only lost one game to 16 points." We're proud of them for learning that in a short amount of time and for being able to execute that on the court.

"We had ten fourth quarter points which is a lot for us and our point guard Arden Lee, we put her in a tough spot because she has to bring the ball up and played really well defensively and hit two big shots to solidify it."

"Both with the Montvale and Tenafly wins the girls were obviously excited at the end of the game but we tried to teach them about sportsmanship and not trying to show up the other teams and make sure we tip our hats to them because they both played excellent all season long."

Head Coach Steve Lenart on the playoff run and championship title, "We had to play a Montvale team that was 12-2 going into it, and only two losses were against Tenafly." "A tough group of kids, and we got beat up pretty good by them during the regular season." We were able to tie a pretty good game together to end the regular season against them.

"It was a pretty hard-fought game, real stringent on the defensive end of the court for us." "That's pretty much how we wanted it and we held them to three points over the course of the contest, but they really dug in and did what they could on the floor."

"Against Tenafly, we got beat up by them pretty badly during the regular season, so we figured we had to mix it up and catch them off the defensive scheme a little bit and the girls bought into it." "They executed the zone defense very well and picked it up at the right time." It was a struggle early in the season, but they kept getting better and better over the year and peaked at the right time.

"We got out to a little bit of a lead, we went into the locker room at half up 9-6 but then Tenafly went on a little bit of a run and scored eight to ten unanswered points on us, and we went down." "We had to battle back a little, but the girls kept grinding it out with smart offensive possessions and really turned up the defense."

"Tenafly had an inbounds play with under ten seconds left with the score at 19-16 and they missed an opportunity." "We were able to corral the rebound and just dribbled out the clock and the buzzer went off." "The girls were just as shocked as anybody and took them a while to realize what was happening."

"They all circled up and jumped on top of each other and hugging one another." "I felt really happy for that because of all the physical and mental stuff they had gone through over the course of the season." We weren't easy on them by any stretch, but they deserved and earned every bit of celebration.

Assistant Coach Jason Lucey on the playoff run and season in general, "The story of that game was still playing zone, the last time we played them at their place we didn't play our stars that whole game because it was a meaningless game." "The third time we played them the seeds were already set and they lit us up pretty good in their gym."

"They (Tenafly) came into that game pretty confident, but we threw something totally different at them because there was no way we couldn't match up with them and they had too many ball handlers and way too fast." "They team had way more exposure playing together, and we couldn't match up man-to-man against them, so we put the zone on them and it worked really well for us."

"It was great because of the way the whole season shook out and the way we started out." "We were up against it from a team that had never played an organized game and knew the teams we were going up against certainly Tenafly had tryouts and knew it was going to be tough."

"The season did not start great, but we got better every game, and we peaked at the right time." The girls bought in; both wins in the playoffs were huge and significant for the girls to get that done."

Playing an instrumental role in the basketball program's success has been Mike Valente, Head of Oradell Travel Basketball. Head Coach Steve Lenart on Mike Valente, "He is super supportive and organizes the practice schedules for every Oradell Travel Program."

Assistant Coach Jason Lucey on Mike Valente, "He is the president of Oradell Travel Basketball and does a great job running the program."

Assistant Coach Andrew Pratt on the Oradell basketball program, "A big thanks to them and a tough spot for them trying to find gym space for all of us." They organized and put rules for different towns on the website regarding COVID and a lot that goes behind the scenes, and they did a great job."

On Tuesday, April 22nd, Head Coach Steve Lenart, Assistant Coaches Jason Lucey and Andrew Platt, and the players, Arden Lee, Bailey Wacks, Emma Lenart, Hannah Pratt, Makayla Lucey, Adriano Lagano, Addison Stewart, Riley Konidaris, Emma Del Grecco, Taylor Kolacia and Isabella Zucarro were honored for their championship win at the Oradell Council Meeting.

"I couldn't be happier with the fact they thought to invite the girls to something like that, and kudos to the mayor (Dianne Didio) and council for even considering that with how busy they are and what they have on their plate," Head Coach Steve Lenart noted." "They did a nice thing for us, brought us in, had a whole spiel about them, and gave them certificates."

"They started off with the meeting with the pledge, the mayor called them up one by one, gave them a certificate and actually took the time to do a little bit of research and knew exactly how the season unfolded and I can't be happier than I am with the show they put on."

Assistant Coach Jason Lucey on the ceremony, "They did a great job, the girls had their uniforms on, and it was a great thing for them."

Assistant Coach Andrew Pratt on the event, "It's just super nice of them (Mayor Diane Didio and Council) to include the girls, the girls were excited to go there and be recognized and the touch of adding a certificate for each girl was something they really enjoyed."

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