As much as Lawrence Woodmere Academy's blend of skill and speed and some lucky breaks have contributed to its 25-1 record this season, another combination has factored into the success: the correct mix of Chinese food ordered at lunch.
In other words, off-the-court team bonding.
"We're from all around. We have a few guys from Queens, most from Long Island," 6-9 senior center Guilherme Brodt said of the members of the boys basketball team at the small private school in Woodmere. "But we try to be like a family, so sometimes we do team lunches. We'll order Chinese food, get seats in the cafeteria and make fun of each other."
"That's an everyday thing, basically," sophomore point guard Edwin Sainvil said. "I don't think that's good, though," he joked, holding his stomach, but "the seniors, they have a car, so they drive and get the food for us."
It's a tight group at Lawrence Woodmere Academy. Not that there's really any other choice. The relatively tiny K-12 school has about 350 total students, including 170 in the high school. Fifteen are part of the perennially successful boys basketball team, led by coach Jeff Weiss.
This season, the Tigers have the best record of any team Weiss has coached in his 22 seasons. Playing against mainly private and independent schools, LWA has not lost since mid-December. And on Thursday, LWA won a third consecutive PSAA championship, beating Evangel Christian (Queens), 100-50.
Winning the league title was not a shock. More than a dozen league-title banners, all won since 1995 and combined among the PSAA and IPPSAL, hang in LWA's home gym. So do five state championship banners. LWA is familiar with winning. But this year, the Tigers' record has surprised them.
"It's been unexpected," senior captain Holden Collick said. "But it turned into our best year yet."
LWA needed to replace its two leading scorers from last season. Plus, the Tigers generally were a young team, returning only two seniors with significant game experience in Collick and Brodt.
"We were really unsure who would be the leader, but a lot of people stepped up this year," said Sainvil, one of the players to take the reins.
Sainvil, a sophomore in his first full year as the starter at point guard, has averaged 15.5 points in the Tigers' up-tempo, three-point-shooting offense.
Collick, a four-year player who plans to play at Brandeis next season, averages 16 points and is the leading rebounder with 12 per game. Brodt, the center, moved from Brazil two years ago. He is soft-spoken when talking one on one but is a vocal leader, shouting supportive words from the sideline during practices and games.
Many of the Tigers' games have been blowout victories, but LWA has persevered in close contests, too. Brodt converted a three-point play with two seconds left in a 64-63 win over Blessed Sacrament. He was fouled after grabbing a rebound of a desperation three-pointer. "A couple times, we got lucky, I'm not going to lie," Sainvil said.
Other victories didn't involve luck. They overcame a six-point halftime deficit to beat Plainview JFK, 61-48. They beat Flushing, 66-60, without an injured Brodt. In a 50-48 win over John Bowne, freshman Cantrell Barker hit a go-ahead three-pointer with 28 seconds left.
The Tigers begin first-round play in the seven-team NYSAIS Class B tournament Thursday. The champion qualifies for the state Federation Class B tournament in Glens Falls.
"We won all those close games that could have gone the other way," Weiss said. "The kids stayed with it and fought hard. We haven't done anything magical in terms of coaching."
Maybe the magic is in the Chinese food.