BY DAVID RUSSELL
Maspeth High School’s boys basketball team saw its season come to a crashing halt after squandering a 20-point lead in an 85-83 playoff loss against Morrisania Educational Campus.
“I definitely did not see it coming,” said head coach Anastasia Bitis. “I thought we should’ve progressed more than we did.”
Bitis had reason for high expectations. Maspeth went 8-0 as a developmental team in 2014 and then won the 2015 PSAL title in the ‘B’ Division in its first season.
Typically, coaches act unsurprised when their team wins, but Bitis said that she was not expecting the championship when he took the job.
“Absolutely not. That was not the expectation,” Bitis said. “The school was still new and it was the first varsity team. Who would think that we’d accomplish what we did? Once the pieces started coming together at the first practice, I thought this is something really special.”
The team has only lost one regular season game in three years of varsity competition.
“We went from nobody knowing who we are to everybody wanting to beat Maspeth,” Bitis said. “It happened in a heartbeat.”
Even college coaches are taking note as some have expressed interest in recruiting Argonaut players.
“At the end of the day that’s what it’s really about,” Bitis said. “It’s not just about basketball.”
Senior Nathaniel Nickel, who is also on the school’s baseball team, led Maspeth with 15 points per game. Fellow senior Derian Puente added nine points per game. Junior guard Luca Tamer missed a few games due to injury, but had two standout performances in the playoffs.
“We worked really hard to establish our culture here,” Bitis said. “Hard work, never giving up, playing for each other. We’re not a very big team. They think we’re there for swimming when we go into other schools. We definitely don’t look like a basketball team.”
Bitis is one of the few woman head coaches in the boys’ game. She is also the handball coach at the school and was previously the swimming coach at Long Island City High School. Her presence occasionally draws a surprise when she shows up for games.
“We kind of face that here and there,” Bitis said. “I’ll call for uniforms and they go, ‘OK, we have girls uniforms.’ They don’t expect it. But I think the guys here have a different perspective.”
Bitis focuses on the defensive end of the game. While everybody likes to put the ball in the basket, she said that it’s team defense that wins.
“Understanding the game is more important,” Bitis said. “And once they understand it, then they can create.”