Add the Solomon Schechter High School of Long Island thermos to the rally cap and other comeback superstitions.
With the Lady Lions trailing the Waldorf School by 10 points at halftime of last week’s conference championship game, Leora Gueron brought out the flagon of Lipton tea for the parents in attendance at the Portledge School in Locust Valley, L.I.
Gueron, whose daughter Elaine is a guard for Schechter, had taken out the thermos in the first game of the season and others with the Lady Lions behind. The Glen Cove school was unbeaten coming into the Independent Private and Parochial Schools Athletic League title contest.
"We needed the tea," Gueron said.
No doubt buoyed by the brew, Schechter chipped away at the Waldorf lead until it trailed by two with 10 seconds left. That’s when Elaine Gueron was fouled driving to the basket.
She sank both shots to force overtime, and Schechter shut out Waldorf, of Garden City, L.I., in the extra session on its way to a 50-42 victory. It was Schechter’s first championship in any sport.
"The girls never gave up," said Bradley Krauz, a veteran tennis coach on Long Island who in his first year at Schechter guided the Lady Lions to a 12-0 mark.
Krauz called the championship an example of dedication overcoming obstacles. Not only did Schechter rally to beat Waldorf, a team the Lady Lions had defeated twice in the regular season, it did so without its top scorer, senior forward Yael Mor, who missed the playoffs to take part in an educational program in Israel.
The coach also cited a heavy academic load of secular and religious studies that reduced the practice time for his players to "usually one day a week" during the season. Most teams work out daily.
Krauz praised his players’ determination. Rarely does a first-year coach win a championship at any level of sports.
"It takes a lot of time for everyone to get accustomed to each other," said Krauz, who took over a team that finished 6-6 a season ago.
"It was an exciting first year," he added.
The season of the thermos began in the first game. Gueron had shlepped the tea because IPPSAL gyms aren’t always well heated in winter. The Lady Lions rallied to win.
A tradition was born for the cadre of Solomon Schechter parents who watched the games this year. For the rest of the season Gueron, of Fresh Meadows in Queens, kept the thermos sealed until her daughter’s team fell behind. For the rest of the season the Lady Lions kept winning.
In the championship game, prior to Elaine Gueron’s free throws with 10 second left, Krauz had some advice for the 5-5 junior: "It’s just like you’re in gym class." Elaine rarely misses in the gym.
"Her shot is so consistent," the coach said.
"I was very nervous," Elaine, 16, admitted. "More than anything I wanted to do it for the team."
She stood at the foul line, bounced the ball a few times and "basically I took a deep breath," Elaine said.
In the stands her mother, who had played high school basketball, was "a nervous wreck. My heart was pounding right through my chest," Gueron said.
Gueron closed her eyes for a few seconds, then continued videotaping the game.
"Everyone around me was cheering," she said. "I said Sh’ma. I felt it was in God’s hands."
Elaine focused on the rim. "I got my hands in the right position," she said. "I made the shot. And I made the other shot."
"The crowd went wild," Krauz said.
The Lady Lions took the overtime 8-0 to take the title, adding to a trophy case that until then had contained a few floor hockey awards. With 13 points, Elaine was the game’s high scorer.
"All the players hugged each other," the coach said. They also stood in line to hug their opponents.
With Mor away, Krauz said the other players improved their game. Ilana Goldblatt came off the bench to score six points in each of the two playoff games.
"Her real addition was in the rebounding," Krauz said.
The day after the game, the school’s 200 students held "a small gathering," he said.
Gueron said she gives "all the credit to the coach. He gave them the confidence they needed."
The players "adore" Krauz, said assistant principal Adele Spickler. "He is a phenomenal asset to our school as a biology teacher as well as coach."
Spickler said the school is proud of the girls not just for winning, "but for the way they play the game: imbued with Jewish values. There were always words of encouragement for each other.
"Team spirit runs high in our school," she said.
No changes are planned to accommodate the championship trophy, Spickler said. "It will fit in our trophy case."
And Leora Gueron will keep her thermos for next season.