By Jerry Del Priore
When a group of friends and female basketball players – Alina Estrella, Melinda Feratovic, and twin sisters, Ericka and Sarah James – who’ve played together for many years, decided to attend James Madison for their freshman year, the high school obtain student-athletes that would quickly change the hoops program into a winner.
Fast forward: going into their senior year at the Marine Park, Brooklyn, school, the Lady Golden Knights core four, along with the rest of the club, are now looking to capture its third straight PSAL Class A Championship, not to mention the elusive New York State title.
“When we went into the open house, I had told the coach, ‘You have four girls who know how to play basketball, and have been playing together for years,’” said Joe Estrella, father of point guard Alina Estrella and one of the parents who helps fill in the important gaps for the team. “So, you should win four city championships in a row.’”
But Madison did lose to Harry Van Arsdale in the PSAL’s A quarterfinals of the postseason in the 2015-16 campaign, the group’s freshman year.
However, last season, Madison went undefeated during the regular campaign and easily buzzed through the competition in the playoffs, straight to its second consecutive PSAL title. But Jamesville Dewitt (Syracuse, PHSAA) edged the Lady Golden Knights, 42-41, in the NY State Federation A final at the Glenn Falls Civic Center in the Adirondacks.
The previous year, Madison defeated Lab Museum in the PSAL finals, but Staten Island Academy upended it by two points in the first round of the states.
Though star center Ketsia Athias has graduated and is now suiting up for New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) – a Division II hoops program on Westbury, Long Island, that plays in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) – the squad is confident (but not cocky) that it can three-peat and win the NY State championship as well.
“I think we can win it. I obviously don’t question us losing the (PSAL) Chip,” said the six-foot-two Feratovic, who noted that she’s in talks of attending Broward College (FL), Florida Atlantic University (FAU), St. Francis University (Penn) or Stony Brook University at the moment. “I’m just hoping we win states because we lost two years in a row by a few points; it’s not the best feeling ever. I plan on graduating with a state ring.”
Feratovic isn’t the only hoopster that’s hungry to prove the club is the best of the best in not only in the city’s public high schools, but overall tops in the state, too.
“Two years ago, we got to the first round, and we got cut,” Alina Estrella said. “Then last year, we made it all the way to championship and we lost by a point. So hopefully this year we go all the way.”
“We just keep getting closer and closer to the goal we want,” added sharp shooting Ericka James, the squad’s 2017-18 leading scorer with 13.13 points per game.
A testament to the Lady Golden Knights’ relentless work ethic and their ability to run roughshod over PSAL A teams, like they have done in previous seasons, Madison believes the extra work will pay dividends as they delve deeper into the playoffs.
Plus, the girls believe the degree of intensity and competition in their practices are something most other squads have trouble matching in games.
Therefore, the Lady Golden Knights often push preparation to gut-busting limits in order to test their mettle during crunch times against top level talent.
“I’m not necessarily worried, I just feel if we do what we have to do, we can get it done,” Sarah James said of winning the PSAL crown. “I feel like working out now and after practice are definitely going to help us, as well as working with each other, because we really are our own (best) competition at this point.”
One of the biggest challenges the team will face this year, however, is its lack of depth (it’s worth mentioning that senior Deidre Foster is a force as well, scoring 12.12 ppg last year), forcing players to stay on the hardwood for extra minutes in close games.
Fortunately for Madison, there haven’t been many loses in the last three seasons, as it last defeat came against Van Arsdale on March 3, 2016.
But again, the extra measures taking now, and throughout the season, are preparing the Lady Golden Knights for those curial, push-comes-to-shove moments, when their fitness levels will be tested.
“I feel like we can always improve our fitness,” said Alina Estrella, who plans on attending physical therapy school upon graduation. “I feel like coming to practice today and doing extra work just improves how we play during the season.”
Madison will face Bishop Loughlin in the Lady Lions Den Classic tournament Saturday, November 17 at 6:00 p.m.
The Lady Golden Knights host Leon M Goldstein Tuesday, December 4 at 4:30 p.m. in the first PSAL A tilt of the regular season.