NEW YORK — Surrounded by a dedicated, and cold, group of parents, the Brooklyn Friends girls soccer team celebrated a second straight Independent School Athletic League title Thursday at Randall’s Island after beating French-American School of New York, 4-2.
The tiny private school in Brooklyn Heights with about 180 students in grades 9 through 12 has steadily grown into a burgeoning powerhouse on the pitch in a few short years.
“It’s an honor to be part of the beginning of that and watch the team grow,” said senior co-captain Julia Greenwald, 17, of Park Slope.
The transformation into a team that is now ranked among the best in New York City hasn’t happened overnight.
But the growth, nonetheless, has been remarkable.
“When I was playing for BFS, everyone laughed at us, we lost 8-0, our practices weren’t well organized,” assistant coach Shelby Cummins said. “We didn’t really have a program.”
Cummins helped organize the rebirth of the varsity program at Brooklyn Friends with her twin sister in 2004 before going on to play college soccer at Division III Franklin & Marshall in Lancaster, Pa.
Brooklyn Friends went 0-13-2 in 2005 and won a total of six games in five years.
“It’s absolutely surreal,” she said. “We went from losing every single game for three years, we lost terribly every single game. It’s completely different now. We have fans!”
And they have an extremely special talent in freshman Halima Matthews. The 14-year-old from East Flatbush has 37 goals this season, including all four in the title game while being double and triple-teamed.
And that’s after Matthews, who has spectacular speed and the ability to score with both feet, netted 34 goals as an eighth-grader.
“For me she’s one of the best strikers in the region, not just because of her physical attributes, but her technical ability is outstanding,” Brooklyn Friends coach Gary Lawson said.
According to her teammates, Matthews is as humble as she is good. In fact, despite scoring four goals in a title match, each time she put the ball in the net, Matthews just turned around and prepared for the next play.
“When she scores, she doesn’t celebrate,” said senior midfielder Olivia Parnell, 17, from Flatbush. “She just looks at the player who passed her the ball and says thank you.”
Matthews would be a standout on any number of the city’s well-established powerhouses, including Beacon, Bronx Science and Riverdale Country Day. But she chose to attend tiny Brooklyn Friends and doesn’t regret the decision for one minute.
“The players, the team and the school is so amazing and I love them so much,” said Matthews, 14, from East Flatbush. “The environment and the community are just amazing. Anyone would love it.”
Lawson, a native of England, is also a big part of Brooklyn Friends' transformation. He has instilled confidence in his players with positive reinforcement and brought advanced techniques.
“It has a lot to do with Gary and the extra work he puts in,” Cummins said. “He does a lot of video stuff, stuff you wouldn’t really expect out of a small, private school.”
Added Matthews: “He works with players individually and with the team to help us develop our skills. It’s really helpful and I think he’s an amazing coach.”
Prior to the girls soccer team’s emergence, the biggest thing to come out of Brooklyn Friends in the past 10 years was Kyle Neptune, who played at Lehigh after guiding the boys basketball team to the New York State Association of Independent Schools Class C title and a spot in the New York State Federation tournament in 2003.
“Brooklyn is booming and it’s good to be a part of all this good stuff going on there,” said Brooklyn Friends athletic director David Gardella.
Thursday’s victory improved Brooklyn Friends' record to 12-0-3. On Friday, they find out if they’re selected to compete in the NYSAIS tournament for the first time.
That brings about mixed emotions for Parnell.
“I’m so sad because it feels like it's the start of something amazing, but I’d say for me and Julia, the proudest thing is to be able to have started that legacy,” Parnell said. “I’m so excited to see where they go next year.”