It was Suzuki Lin’s birthday, but with the holiday break just ending and the basketball season starting up right away, there was little time for her American Studies basketball teammates to go shopping for a present. Plus, some say she’s a little hard to shop for.
So what do you get a sophomore guard who already has everything? How about a victory over neighborhood rival Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy — something no one on the current American Studies roster could lay claim to?
It seems like the perfect gift, no?
American Studies junior Emily Eljamal made sure it was a perfect birthday for Lin, turning in a career-best performance as she posted a stunning 41-point, 25-rebound outing, and the Senators knocked off RKA 68-31 at Lehman College.
It was a victory a long time coming for the Senators over their long-time nemesis.
“We played with more intensity because we really wanted this win,” Eljamal said. “We just came out like it was a playoff game.”
American Studies head coach Ryan Hondorf also enjoyed the long-awaited victory over the Lady Tigers.
“I think there was definitely a little added motivation,” he said. “We try and look at each game the same way, but I’d say, for the girls, it was a little bit different, and we brought a little extra tonight.”
The Senators — 7-2 in the Bronx B West Division — wasted little time getting down to business. With Eljamal virtually unstoppable in the first half, American Studies rolled to a commanding 42-16 lead at halftime, and the Senators were never threatened the rest of the way. To put it simply, the Lady Tigers just could not find a way to stop Eljamal.
“She’s great, and she’s only a junior,” RKA coach Will Cushing said. “We’ve played against her for a couple of years and she’s been tough. I think she’s improving each year. She finishes so well around the basket and she has a really good sense of spacing and where to position herself. She has a very good knack of finding those gaps in the zone to get open.”
Hondorf has had Eljamal on his roster for three seasons now, but even he was stunned by his junior’s performance last Friday.
“It was unbelievable,” Hondorf said. “I don’t think anyone in our school history has had a game like that. An amazing game, and I’m really proud of her. It’s really crazy to think she has another year left here, so we’re excited for that. But we still have to take the season one game at a time.”
RKA had been the team that everyone else in the division aspired to be in recent years as the two-time defending division champions. But the loss of former star Shadai Plowden put the Lady Tigers into a rebuilding situation this season. So Cushing, who knows a thing or two about coaching winning basketball programs, thinks American Studies has the stuff to be a division contender this season.
“American Studies, Taft and (Albert) Tuitt (high schools) are clearly a level above everyone else in the division this year,” Cushing said. “American Studies has a very good team.”
Hondorf agrees the road to the division championship this season will go through the aforementioned trio.
“Taft and Tuitt are going to be the two that I think are going to determine the division championship,” Hondorf said. “But we’re not going to take any game lightly, and we’re going to make sure we’re prepared as best we can be for those two teams because they are going to be close games, hard-fought games. And we definitely think we have a chance to win those.”
And if Eljamal can post another couple of games like she did against RKA, well then there’s no telling how far these Senators can go this season.
“This was just a normal game, and the next game I’ll try and do the same thing,” said Eljamal, who raised the bar on the rest of her season. “Obviously they were missing their best player from the last couple of years in Shadai, and that probably made a difference. But we had never won against them, so this was a big win for us.
“It’s a little bit more of an emotional win.”