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BY LARRY FLEISHER

Last year, Francis Lewis was a sleeper team that won its first girls city championship in basketball since 1979, the first by a school not named Murry Bergtraum in 15 years.

Since beating South Shore 65-57 and ending Bergtraum’s stranglehold on the championship, Patriots coach Steve Tsai knows what the next challenge is for his team as they try to repeat.

“I think if anything it might be a little harder this year because last year we might have been considered a sleeper team where this year we’re more of a target,” Tsai said. “So we have to be better prepared this year. It’s part of me being a better coach and making sure our girls are prepared for all different situations and for each of our girls making sure they’ve improved and not being the same team as last year.”

The Patriots were actually a target last season. That was because they had transfer center Chelsea Robinson and heard the constant talk about her being controversially cleared to play by the PSAL. Still, Robinson was not much of a factor in the title game due to foul trouble.
Instead it was some of those who are returning to the team this year, such as the junior guard trio of Sierra Green, Taliyah Brisco and Chi La Ba Bady.

“For us, since I’ve taken over, I’ve tried to make it as collective as possible,” Tsai said. “We’re definitely not a one-, two- or three-man show. For us to be successful, because we’re so small, we really have to band together. Everyone’s got to help each other out both offensively and defensively.

“We have a system that we run and it’s not going to be one person that is the reason why we win. It’s going to be that we do it as a collective group and it’s because we follow our system. For each of the girls they have to make sure we’re prepared. We can’t use the excuse that we’re underclassman because most of the girls are upperclassman so my expectations of them in terms of understanding what they’re supposed to do is a little bit higher.”

Last year Brisco and La Bady averaged 10 points. Green was even better, averaging 19 points and getting 21 in the title game, which earned her MVP honors.

Even with that trio, there are others Tsai is counting on. That includes Robin Francis, junior

Dominique Williams and sophomore forward Sabrina Clement, who is the only post player.
“It’s pretty much the same team,” Tsai said. “We lost Chelsea, she was the lone senior that graduated and then we have some freshman. For us we’ve always said we’re only going to be as good as our least experienced players. So it’s really important for them to catch up and it’s also important for each of our girls to constantly improve throughout the season, so they bring something more to the table. The only way our team is going to improve and be better than last year is if each of our girls take on the challenge of being better players.”

Taking on that challenge also means running whatever type of offense the Patriots employ in a specific game. Tsai said that the Patriots will be up-tempo, but also will be able to adjust to how the opponent is defending them. It also will be a team that emphasizes spacing and ball movement. For Tsai, the goal is to have players show improvement and play the game the right way.

“For me I want to make sure if the girls get the opportunity to play at the next level, they can say they were taught the right way,” Tsai said. “For me I don’t look at the end result. It’s great to win a championship, but the journey and process of getting better each day is so much more valuable.”

If that process of getting better every day manifests itself, perhaps the title will remain in Fresh Meadows.

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