Valley Torah Wolfpack (69) def. Vasquez HS Mustangs (52), Clinch Heritage League Championship

Acton, CA (1/30/2020)– In a well fought game throughout, Valley Torah’s win last night against Vasquez High School is one of truly historic proportions.

Last night’s win marks only the second time in school history that the Wolfpack has claimed the Heritage League Championship.

This, however, was not a streak of luck. Hard work and determination brought the Wolfpack to this tremendous feat.

Initially, the potential of the basketball team was surrounded by question marks. After a devastating, heart-breaking loss on a buzzer beater to S.A.R in the annual Red Sarachek tournament hosted by Yeshiva University in March 2019, the team also lost many key players, including starters Akiva Kamornick (‘19), Yosee Kreitenberg (‘20), Uzi Mermelstein (‘22), Liorel Bitton (‘19), and Jacob Cohn (‘19), among others, and Wolfpack super fans, both teachers and students, looked at the next year wondering how the Wolfpack would come back.

Since as early as the end of last school year, members of the Wolfpack varsity squad dedicated their time, blood, sweat, and tears to making our school proud. In addition, new coaches, including Assistant Coach Eli Essa- a highly touted coach with an amazing record- are some of the many changes that came for the Wolfpack.

The year started off with the Cooper Memphis Invitational tournament, what was considered their first true test of the new year in which the Wolfpack’s valiant efforts only resulted in a 2-2 record and not much success.

But then, something changed.

After their time in Memphis, the Wolfpack went full force into preparing for their Heritage League and C.I.F. matchups. Chemistry and communication, once considered a weakness for this year’s Wolfpack, is now the focal point of what makes this year’s Wolfpack squad so unique. 

Before long, the wins began to pile up.

New starters and role players began to get comfortable in their new roles. For example, Johnny Dan (‘23) joined his brother Benji (‘21) in the starting lineup, and has flourished with a tremendous slashline, including a 36 point game on January 28th. Benji, too, has shown strides of improvement from his already stellar performance last season, further improving his shooting from behind-the-arc and in the low post. Aaron Imanoel (‘20) and Noah R’bibo (‘20) also joined varsity this year, playing their ways to their respective sixth man and starting roles, and have proven their athleticism anchoring the low post, becoming efficient scorers and rebounders.

The teams greatness at bouncing back from adversity to this point has led them to an outstanding, undefeated record of 10-0 in the Heritage League. In all games played this season, the team boasts a record of 20-1, the only loss being a Jewish Hoops game to YULA, a heartbreaking double overtime loss on a last second buzzer beater.

It is no surprise, then, that yesterday’s game was the historic, statement-making win that it became.

Like many games in the past few days, the game began with a tribute to Kobe Bryant, the late Lakers legend who died this week in a helicopter crash. 24 seconds of silence from both teams provided a moment of reflection on Bryant’s immense influence on the game of basketball in Los Angeles and more so around the globe.

As play began, the first quarter set the tone for the game, with the Wolfpack jumping out to a double digit lead by the end of 8 minutes, with a score of 25-8. Shots fell from everywhere, including a multitude of threes from the Dan brothers and even more inside looks from Imanoel (‘20), Noah R’bibo (‘20), and Alon Yehezkel (‘21). Crisp ball movement was also common in the game, as precisely placed passes were another way the Wolfpack set the tone for the game.

Valley Torah held a 9-point lead into halftime, but by the end of the third quarter, the team had already amassed a 14-point lead, which became a 17-point lead by the end of the game. 

“We jumped on them early, but they fought tooth and nail to make it a close game. Vasquez is extremely talented and has a great chance to win CIF in their respective division. They have two phenomenal, college-level players in Jacob Orrill and Omari Mathis. We responded tonight. They made a run, we dug our heels in, and fought back. We showed grit, toughness, and maturity. We won on defense.”

Head Coach Lior Schwartzberg on the team’s win @ Vasquez

Another exciting competition that happened at Vasquez High School last night was the cheering from both sides, as both schools pridefully supported their teams. From tip off until the final buzzer, there was not one silent moment.

After the game, Head Coach Lior Schwartzberg had this to say on his team’s performance: “We jumped on them early, but they fought tooth and nail to make it a close game. Vasquez is extremely talented and has a great chance to win CIF in their respective division. They have two phenomenal, college-level players in Jacob Orrill and Omari Mathis. We responded tonight. They made a run, we dug our heels in, and fought back. We showed grit, toughness, and maturity. We won on defense.”

Assistant Coach, Eli Essa, added, “We came in as a team, we left as champions.”

The Wolfpack aspires to continue their winning ways with the upcoming CIF tournament and Yeshiva University’s Red Sarachek tournament, the latter of which begins in just over a month.

Despite all the adversity that has met the Wolfpack, their hunger for greatness has propelled them to a season to remember. Their next game will be the annual “Senior Night” matchup, this year against Trinity Classic at Bellarmine Jefferson High School, starting at 8:45PM this Motzaei Shabbos. This game, much like every game this season, will be an exciting one, guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat.

The Junior Varsity squad will also face Trinity Classical on Motzaei Shabbos, with tip-off at 7:30PM.

Moshe Litenatsky (’20) is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Valley Torah Scroll.

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