The wait must have been, at the very least, disheartening -- they lost their first nine games of this season, their first season as a full member in the MSA C Conference. And four of those losses came by a total of just nine points.
But Beth Tfiloh (2-11) did finally win -- two in a row, in fact, against Friends and Arlington Baptist. And, while scoring 41 points against the latter, Warriors guard Joe Shuster emerged as one of the top players in the C Conference.
"It felt really great," Shuster said. "We won the first game at home and the whole team went really wild. Obviously, it's had an effect on us to win two in a row, especially conference games. I think we're going to play harder."
Playing hard comes naturally to the 5-foot-10 senior. He's played a lot of basketball at Luckman Park in the lower Park Heights area. "It's rough ball out there," he said. "But that's how you learn. If you can play there, you can play anywhere."
Shuster seems to play all over, as evidenced by his averages of 24.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.8 steals.
"His strength is inside," said Gordon Kaplan, Beth Tfiloh's third-year coach. The school has had a basketball team for three years, although this is only their second year on the varsity level. "He gives second and third effort," Kaplan said of Shuster. "He's very tenacious. He likes to go inside and be fouled, likes the contact. He's not afraid to go up against the trees."
"The coach tells me to read the defense and take the drive if they come up on me or take the 'J' if they play back," Shuster said.
A 3.5 student and student government president, he contributes off the floor as well. After a 31-point loss to Lutheran in their second game of the season, "Two kids got in a scuffle in the locker room," Kaplan said. "Joe stepped in and squared it away in my absence. We made him team captain."
Jack Bennett, Beth Tfiloh's 6-0 senior power forward, is another Warrior who has played some in the inner city. An active, intense player inside, Bennett is averaging 9.7 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists. In Monday's 71-36 loss at St. Paul's, Bennett surprised nearly everyone in the gym when he rejected a shot by the Crusaders' fine center, 6-4 Shane Tanzymore.
This year's seniors will be the second graduating class at Beth Tfiloh and, with only 59 boys in grades 9-12, the kids know they can't match the talent pools and tradition of larger, established schools. Yet, said athletic director Stu Tarleton, "Most of them look at the tough competition as a challenge. They'd rather play the Gilmans, St. Paul's, and Boys' Latins than the smaller schools."
And no one can question their desire to play. After starting the day at the Orthodox Jewish school 8 a.m. with a half-hour of prayers, they attend classes until 4:10 p.m. Then the boys and girls basketball teams alternate possession of the gym, each practicing twice a week from 5-7 p.m. and twice from 7-9 p.m. plus Sundays.
But participation is the aim of the athletic program. Besides the three basketball teams (boys and girls varsity and boys junior varsity), Beth Tfiloh this year is competing at the varsity level in boys soccer, cross country, track, tennis and baseball, and girls softball.
"One of the biggest problems is being careful we don't expand too quickly," Tarleton said. "In the spring we have baseball, tennis and track. That's a lot to spread around 59 boys. You want to have competitive teams."
Last year, the boys basketball team was put at a competitive disadvantage when four senior starters spent February in Israel on a class trip. This year international events have precluded that from happening again and an alternative trip hasn't been decided upon. But, athletically, Beth Tfiloh is now on the map.