Fraternal twins Avika and Aanya Mehta spent last week in Disney World with the Clarke High School band at an Orlando competition.
It was symbolic for the Mehta twins and a handful of teammates who play in the band. They are also making sweet music for the girls’ basketball team, which is on the cusp of an historic season.
With one more victory, Clarke will clinch a playoff berth for only the second time in 19 years – the last being 2019. Last season, the Rams struggled in Conference A5, posting a 2-10 record. Now they are 10-4 overall; 4-3 in conference games.
“It would just show how hard we worked as a team - we worked all offseason,’’ Avika Mehta said in a phone call from Orlando. “Our team chemistry is very good. We work very well together. We came to practice every day with one goal in mind – make the playoffs.’’
The Mehtas, both juniors, are the team’s two best defenders. Their roles on offense are different – with Avika playing point guard as floor general. Aanya is a taller, 5-8 role player, never really touching the ball much. Neither are point-getters.
“We definitely understand our role on the team,’’ Avika said. “We just play hard on defense, knowing if we can stop the ball, our other people on the court can get us some points offensively. So we do our part on defense.’’
This is a junior-laden squad without much hype entering the season, considering Clarke’s history.
“Clarke isn’t a program that’s been in the playoffs very often,’’ head coach Shaun Fean said. “My expectations are where I thought we’d be. Outside expectations, people are a little surprised at the success we’ve had. We met that challenge. It’s really special for our kids. It doesn’t happen often here so they’re very excited.’’
The leading scorer is junior Michelle Diaz, averaging 13.5 points. But the team’s most valuable piece may be Avika Mehta, as evidenced by when she missed the Island Trees’ rematch and the Rams got blown out. In the first contest, Clarke was within 2 points in the final minute.
“She gets us settled as the calming influence,’’ Fean said. “She’s our best defender. Her impact goes far behind statistics.’’
Her sister, Aanya , is a defensive force at the bottom of Clarke’s 1-3-1 zone in her first year on varsity. “That’s the toughest position to play in that defense,’’ Fean said. “A lot of territory to cover.’’
Another first-year varsity player is junior Madeline Millman, known for her intangibles. The coach compares Millman to ex-Knick power forward Charles Oakley for “taking charges, rebounding, setting screens.’’
Fean said of Aanya and Millman, “They’re maturation more than anything of becoming varsity players and learning how to play at this level has really helped us be as successful. We don’t run deep but the 6, 7 who play consistently accepted and perfected roles.’’
The two key seniors are Rina Visvanathan, their second-leading scorer (8.5 ppg), and Julia Khashan, third-leading scorer (7.5). Khashan is their best 3-point shooter and the coach likes how she can bust a zone.
But as Fean said, “We don’t score a ton. We’re more a defensive-focused team.’’
And that’s where the Mehtas come in. Avika plays the baritone, Aanya the tuba, and they both play great defense.