“One, two, three, hustle!” yelled Paige Siegal’s University of Maryland women’s team as they returned to the court from halftime during the National Hillel Basketball Tournament championship games on Sunday.
They were leading by eight points. Within the first minute of the second half, Ali Feinstein of the Texas team had taken hold of the ball and shot a three pointer. Not to be outdone, Maryland responded with their own three-point shot 30 seconds later.
Players kept the same intensity throughout the game. In the last minute, Siegal rebounded a missed shot and swung the ball down half court to teammate Connaught Blood, who sunk the game’s final basket. Maryland won, 38-32.
“It was difficult at first getting used to playing with each other,” said Siegal. “A lot of us didn’t even know each other before.”
Students from some 30 campuses competed at the weekend-long tournament held in College Park.
The team of six was all smiles as they raised their Hillel Tournament trophy proudly, smiling for pictures.
“We’ll all go get food and just hang out to celebrate,” said Siegel, the team’s 5-foot-5-inch captain, a sophomore studying business and management.
The same suspense was repeated as the men’s semifinalist winners, University of Maryland and Harvard University, took to the court. Although basketball is considered a no-contact sport, the game soon became territorial, with three fouls called within the first 40 seconds. Each time UMd. junior Danny Hoffman sunk a three, the crowd evolved into a contagious euphoria. UMd. Hillel’s rabbi, Ari Israel, said this year’s fans brought new electricity to the tournament.
“The turnout is huge and their energy is high,” he said.
During halftime, tournament chairs Michael Shrager and Joseph Tuchman thanked the event’s sponsors and introduced the NHBT founder, Rachel Klausner.
“I am amazed by the amount of sponsors and players,” she said. “I remember when there was a board of 12 of us. We were just a bunch of friends who loved basketball. This year they took it to a whole new level.”
With 30 seconds left on the clock, UMd.’s point guard circled the ball around the perimeter until the game was over. Both teams broke into huge smiles, with hugs of camaraderie and “congratulations” sealed with high fives. University of Maryland’s Jason Langer team beat Harvard, 39-30.
Seniors Aaron Jagoda and Josh Rice coached Maryland’s team to victory. Like the women’s team, many of the players had never competed together before the tournament.
“Our biggest obstacle was making sure that defense talked to each other,” said Rice, “but in the end the chemistry was really great.”
Jagoda said that although the team was composed of high scoring “ballers,” everyone worked together to “make the play” and participated selflessly. As the team gathered for a photo, plans were made to celebrate over dinner.
After seven games, “Lord knows I’m hungry,” Rice said with a laugh.
This year’s MVPs were announced before the closing barbeque. Women’s captain Paige Siegal and men’s forward Mark Brenner each received glass MVP awards to recognize their athletic achievement.
Tournament chairman Michael Shra-ger noted the “very high-caliber basketball” displayed over the weekend, and the participation of Jake Susskind, a Division I player, who joined this year’s NHBT winning Maryland team.
“The competition is the best it’s ever been,” said Shrager. “It’s great to see how athletics and sports can bring Jews from all different backgrounds together in Jewish unity. We did everything we wanted to do.”
With trophies awarded and students returning to their respective colleges, plans for NHBT 2015 are underway.
Shrager, a senior psychology major, has worked on the Hillel Tournament committee since joining its pilot planning board four years ago. Co-chairman Joseph Tuchman is already developing plans for the next tournament.
“Next year, we look forward to improving involvement from the UMd. community, through housing athletes, volunteering and attending events, to showcase our unbelievable campus and community,” said Tuchman.
Klausner has even greater expectations.
“Oh man, I got big dreams,” she said. The business school graduate, who lives in Israel, is still a Terp at heart. “I can’t wait to see the Hillel Tournament being played at the Comcast Center — or at least the championship game.”