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Quite a splash! Foote School winter season athletes ride the wave to multi-sports pride

Updated: Mar 6

By Rick Menning

NEW HAVEN, CT -- As the snow packs slowly melted on the campus grounds, so too did winter sports at The Foote School wind its way down into a season-ending grand finale.

Before the temperatures outside started to rise, however, there was plenty of warmth resonating indoors as the Falcons' squads finished on encouraging notes highlighted by the swimmers' amazing showing in the inaugural Middle School Prep Championships at Hamden Hall.

The Falcons Swim Team made a great showing at the first-ever Middle School Prep Championships. (Photo courtesy of The Foote School.)

For them and also the basketball and squash teams, months of perseverance, dedication and determination -- both in practices and games -- resulted in a rewarding all-around experience in the pool and on the court.

The outcomes of all those endeavors were secondary to the excitement and atmosphere of positivity that fired up a competitive spirit that reached a high peak as the season progressed.

Here is a synopsis of each team's athletic journey that paid off with commendable showings and all-around performances:

Coed Swimming

If ever there was an exclamation point to a season of smiles and fun times, it was experienced by The Foote's School's coed swimming team during the closing week of the winter season competition.

Shining brightly among a field of four teams -- in both girls' and boys' divisions -- inside the Beckerman Athletic Center on the Hamden Hall campus, the Falcons' pool brigade not only brought pride to their school but achieved outstanding individual successes.

Besties in bunches

When the ripples settled from an afternoon of exciting races, The Foote School achieved both second place (girls) and third place (boys) finishes as 27 best-times were recorded.

The list of accomplishments from that meet is long and impressive: 

Natalie Curtis and Eloise Dickson finished first and third out of 22 swimmers in the 50-free, both with best times (Natalie dropped over a second). 

Kameron Shahid finished second and third in the 50-free and 50-breast, respectively. 

Shayann Bershtein finished third in the 100-IM with her best time ever.

Shayann also shattered her best 50 split time anchoring the 200-medley relay, swimming her fastest by far over the last two seasons.

The Foote girls' 200 freestyle relay of Lulu Tang, Eloise Dickson, Sabine Teel and Natalie Curtis crushed their opponents to take first place in the event by over 20 seconds. 

Tyler Witkowsky destroyed his best 50 split time anchoring the 200-free relay by almost two seconds! 

Natalie and Iris Elliot wound up second and third in a very close 50-breaststroke race. 

In his final meet for Foote, ninth-grader Barrett Hansen swam his best time ever in the 50-breast. 

Lulu and Sabine staked their claim to first and second place in the 100-freestyle. 

Siena Wilhelm and Desi Friedah thrilled to second and third place results in the 50-back.

Simón Rodriguez also finished third in the 50-back, and Alice Neitzke swam the 50-back for the first time.

Lulu and Sabine took second and third place in a very close 50-fly race. 

Alice, a sixth-grader who had never swam before, continued to try her best and participated in the 50-free a few times this season. She challenged herself one final time by swimming a new event, the 50-backstroke, at the championship meet. 

"Our team grew this season by shifting their attention away from winning or losing meets to self-improvement and just simply getting faster," coach Elliot Dickson said.

Supporting each other

They often helped each other in the pool when trying new techniques," Dickson continued. "Our team was good about helping one another brush off lackluster swims."

Assistant coach Phoebe Yeh noted that the swimmers’ dedication really reflected in their improvement throughout the season.

"We had a few swimmers compete in their first meet ever this season. It takes a lot of courage to be able to do something new and with that much pressure," coach Yeh said. "I am proud of both the swimmers and the team as a whole for fostering a strong environment where everyone felt encouraged to try."

Yeh went on to point out that Lulu was among the many standouts from this season as she broke a minute in the 100-yard freestyle. She swam 59 seconds at a dual meet, then 58 at the final championship.

F.I.S.H. Award (Fortitude, Inspiration, Sportsmanship. Honor): Lulu Tang and Iris Elliott.

Tough Duck Award: Kameron Shahid and Alice Nietzke.

Team Roster: Shayann Bershtein, Natalie Curtis, Alara Deniz, Eloise Dickson, Iris Elliott, Desi Freidah, Barrett Hansen, Sophie Jelaca, Mikk Melville, Alice Nietzke, Jessica Park, Catherine Schlachter, Kameron Shahid, Lulu Tang, Sabine Teel, Siena Wilhelm, Simon Rodriguez, Tyler Witkowsky. Coaches: Elliot Dickson, Phoebe Yeh. 

Boys Varsity-B Basketball

What better way to put the bow on a special season than with a three-game winning streak.

That's exactly what happened with the hard-charging Varsity-B squad that overcame a very tough loss before turning things completely around.

"We lost our first game by 23 points in my debut as head coach, and then after that we won by 16, 38 and 23 points, respectively, to close out the season," coach Khalil Dunham-Carson said. "The biggest thing I tried to reinforce within this team is having trust, confidence and communication within your brothers on the court."

Falcons' Varsity-B Team Head Coach Khalil Dunham-Carson offers words of encouragement prior to one of their games. (Photo courtesy of The Foote School).

One memorable contest that tested the team's depth was when three key players were unable to participate in the season's final game.

"The boys were determined to end the season with a win," Dunham-Carson said. "As you can imagine, having a six-man rotation is nerve-wracking. Figuring out the rotations perfectly to still give each player some rest, and not overexert anyone is an extremely challenging thing to do. "

The team embraced the challenge and came away with the 'W'.

"We won the game by 23 points. I couldn't be any more proud of this team for having heart, guts, and just pure hunger to be winners," Dunham-Carson continued.

Super-charged play

In terms of individual accolades, Coach Khalil noted that Adham Tantawy recorded a season-high of 50 points, and the trio of Gage Lang, Quinn Byron and Prince Starling all dropped 20-plus points in action at The Hopkins School. Then there was Ari Lopez hitting a half-court three-point buzzer beater to end the season after saying he wasn't going to finish this season without going long distance.

And more accomplishments:

Felix Boone brought the energy, hustle and second-point chances ,all while pushing the ball and being aggressive. Mason Lamprea dove for loose balls, boxing out against the bigs on the other team and grabbing many rebounds when he was in the game, and Jack Ginnetti was the anchor and brought good court presence by preventing other defenders from attacking the Falcons' basket. 

Triple Threat Award: Ari Lopez.

Triple Threat MVP Award: Owen Whang. 

Team Roster: Felix Boone, Quinn Byron, Jack Ginnetti, Mason Lamprea, Gage Lang, Ari Lopez, Prince Starling, Adham Tantawy, Owen Whang. Coach: Khalil Dunham-Carson.

Girls Junior Varsity Basketball

With a roster of only seven girls and a challenging schedule that included four games over the last two weeks of the season, the Falcons' junior varsity girls' basketball squad exceeded all expectations on the hardwood.

Those traits resulted in four victories in six games including a pair of defensive showdowns against The Country School. The sixth-grade ballers also defeated St. Thomas, and won their home game in a series with Hamden Hall that also featured a visit to the Hornets’ gym.

The Falcons Junior Varsity Girls Basketball Team enjoyed some thrilling games as part of their 4-2 season. (Photo courtesy of The Foote School.)

In a 9-8 cliffhanger at The Country School, Ellie Sudmyer made the winning free throw, called a critical time out in a pressure-packed situation at midcourt and tied up an opposing player in Foote's defensive zone to force a game-deciding turnover with 10 seconds left.

"You had great camaraderie and showed great character," I told the team at the closing ceremony in the gymnasium. "Despite not practicing together as strictly a JV squad until the middle of January, you bonded quickly and established great friendships. You were supportive of each other and always cheered for each other regardless of whether you were on the winning or losing end of the score."

The Swish Award: Ellie Sudmyer

Team Roster: Lexie Andersson, Safiya Gonzalez, Audrey Lasater, Eve Laskin-Tievsky, Ruthie Meyers, Izzy Patkutka, Ellie Sudmyer. Coach: Rick Menning.

Boys Junior Varsity Basketball

Heading into their final game with a 3-3 record, the Falcons' junior varsity hoopsters had the eye of the tiger as they took to the hardwood for game number seven that would decide whether or not the squad finished above .500.

"When I reflect on our season, our last game jumps out to me," coach Kassouth Bradford said. "Everyone wanted to end the season with a winning record. "

From warmups to the final buzzer, the Foote athletes were encouraging one another, advising one another and celebrating one another. It epitomized the cohesiveness, determination, talent and joy that the boys brought to every game. 

The Falcons Junior Varsity Boys Basketball Team battled their way to a winning season. (Photo courtesy of The Foote School.)

And as for individual highlights, there were many as Bradford recounted some very special moments:

"Jamison Scott cutting into the paint to make a perfect bounce pass to Cadel Tiernan who calmly received the pass and confidently put it in the basket for two points.

Yoobin Perry and Jasper Bryon overcoming missing shots they often make and surging back to fill up the stat sheet with points and assists by the end of the game. Levi Lucarelli-Apatow and Noah Fisher understanding the flow of the game, cutting and finding space as plays unfolded, thus allowing them to take clean open shots. 

Hatim Elarabi always hustling, getting loose balls and ripping 50/50 balls from an opponent's hands. Isaac Wu owning the paint and blocking the shot of a player at least three inches taller than him, and Danny Johnson making steals due to great anticipation, dribbling full court and going hard to the basket."

Everyone's effort paid off in victory and a stellar 4-3 campaign. 

"They were a true team, they supported one another, held one another accountable and had fun," Bradford concluded.

Titanium Award: Yoobin Perry.

Team Roster: Jasper Byron, Hatim Elarabi, Noah Fisher, Daniel Johnson, Levi Lucarelli-Apatow, Yoobin Perry, Jamison Scott, Cadel Tiernan, Isaac Wu. Coach: Kassouth Bradford.

Girls Varsity Basketball

The Falcons' home and away series against Christian Heritage provided a clean sweep with two well-played girls' varsity basketball games.

"Everyone got to show their best," coach Carrie Boyce said. "I am so proud of a team that never quit. Even when there were a couple of games in which we were clearly outmatched, we played until that final buzzer sounded."

Boyce stated that this year's varsity ballers really strived to become students of the game. Players who developed their skills and their ability to understand the game, rules and strategies, all while making adjustments based on what the other team was doing. 

The Falcons Varsity Girls Basketball Team put their heart and soul into every game. (Photo courtesy of The Foote School).

"I was grateful to do a lot of work with the boys' team as well, to return to a more basketball-inclusive focused program for all teams," Boyce said.

Just two days after returning from the two-week holiday break in early January, the Falcons battled with willpower and focus and won the second half against a good Independent Day School team.

"We rallied, and although our comeback fell short, that set the tone for us," Boyce continued.

The prospects are very bright for future success.

"This team was talented and next year’s team will be too," Boyce said. "We’ve got kids who have been playing together for two years now, and we’re going to continue to improve and find a good rhythm next year."

Get Your Head in the Game Award: Salome Del Rio and Noor Gonzalez (co-winners).

Team Roster: Sofia Caliendo, Salome Del Rio, Avery Earnshaw, Noor Gonzalez, Pelin Kayaarasi, Isla Kelly, Molly Larsen, Dorothea Meyers, Ava Rose, Eve Reilley, Maryam Zagmout. Coach: Carrie Boyce.

Coed Squash

When the Falcons' squash team first entered the courts at Yale University for its match against Hamden Hall, there was an air of intimidation. But while the collegiate atmosphere could have been daunting for middle schoolers, the Foote athletes rose to the challenge.

Although the Falcons lost the match, there were some bigtime moments as Luhao Tang won his nail-biter showdown versus his Hornets opponent at the No. 1 position and Lexi Baez also pulled out a fantastic win. 

The Falcons Squash Team stood tall against every situation on the court this season. (Photo courtesy of The Foote School.)

"The smiles on their faces afterward said it all," coach Chloe Shaw said. "That's something I've experienced all season -- the evidence of hard-earned pride. It's a beautiful thing and they deserve it. The kindness and camaraderie (of every player regardless of their role) was palpable on a daily basis."

Two of those players -- sixth graders Gabriel Wang and Sarah Li -- were brand new to the squad, having moved to the United States from Shanghai and began their academic work at The Foote School in January. 

"Gabriel had played tennis before, but not squash; and Sarah had played squash for about six months before her move. They are both very talented and delightful additions to our team," Shaw noted.

One "wow" moment during the season came when the Falcons went up against a very competitive team of high schoolers. However, the Falcons' sixth- through eighth-grade warriors didn't let the move up in class rattle them and they brought home several wins amidst an environment that could have proven overwhelming.

"We had a team full of hungry players, always asking for more play time, more challenge matches, and more tips on the sport and how to get better," Shaw concluded.


Boaster Award: Sid Srihari (captain).

Team Roster: Lexi Baez, Sofia Chun, Pablo Cruz, Abe Harris-Sturges, Avik Patel, Elizabeth Scott, Tristan Shahid, Poppy Shor, Sid Srihari, Lucy Sunshine, LuhaoTang, George Thompson, Leah Wilderman, Lucien de la Cruz Y Carmin, Sarah Li, Gabriel Wang, Coach: Chloe Shaw.

Boys Varsity-A Basketball

About halfway through its season on the hardwood, the Varsity-A squad adopted a mantra in the huddle: "Five as one."

The game in which this happened -- the first Hamden Hall game -- served as proof that the players took that belief to heart and operated the best as a single unit.

"Everyone contributed, be it with points, blocks, steals or assists," coach Ross Holzschuh said. "In many of our games, there was a player on the opposing team with tremendous height, and Christian Herron was not only willing but also eager to take on the challenge of guarding them."

Holzschuh was impressed with the team's ability to reinvigorate its season following a team meeting before that pivotal game. 

Members of both the Falcons Varsity-A and Varsity-B Basketball Teams show unity on the hardwood with a group gathering. (Photo courtesy of The Foote School).

"It's hard to show up to any game after a string of losses, and sometimes it takes a reminder that success isn't measured exclusively by the final score. The team rallied and played their best game of the season," he said.

Coach Holzschuh grew to appreciate the team's camaraderie and bonding in practices, games and across all sections and grades, and one moment in particular drew his praise.

"Toward the end of the season, there was a girls JV game at home. It was the fourth quarter and the game looked like it would be decided by a single basket -- terribly tense," Holzschuh recalled. "We had ended practice a little early to catch the end of the game and show our support. I leaned over and told one of the guys to start a "defense" chant.

They did just that, and the junior varsity girls prevailed in a thriller 10-8.

"Even though we're on different teams, we're all still one school. It made me proud to be a part of this community -- not just as a coach," Holzschuh concluded.

Triple Threat Award: Will Eden.

Team Roster: Justin Aseme, Will Eden, Christian Herron, Gus Larsen, Owen Lasater, William Matouk, Dylan Sanchez, Jackson Shaw, Eli Wilderman. Coach: Ross Holzschuh.

(Editor's Note: All of the basketball teams give a huge shout out to Ethan Schoenherr, who assisted at many practices where the regular coaches were stretched thin due to the heavy schedule. Ethan offered his time and talents to make the players better athletes and students. Thanks Ethan!)

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