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Ben Shtolzberg leads Sherman Oaks Notre Dame to upset win over Harvard-Westlake

Ben Shtolzberg raised his arms in triumph with 6.5 seconds left. Three frustrating seasons of losing to Studio City Harvard-Westlake was about to end. Two seasons of dealing with a pandemic was momentarily forgotten. Five weeks of overcoming a shoulder injury was conquered.

“I got cleared two days ago,” Shtolzberg said. “I’ve played real basketball for two days.”

It was a night to remember for Shtolzberg and his Sherman Oaks Notre Dame teammates on Friday. They stunned No. 3-ranked Harvard-Westlake 71-61 on the Wolverines’ home court, with Shtolzberg scoring his team’s first 12 points of the fourth quarter while finishing with 28 points.

Notre Dame (15-3, 2-0) is suddenly in the driver’s seat to win the Mission League. Harvard-Westlake (14-2, 0-1) is left trying to figure out what went wrong after opening a 10-point lead in the third quarter. Dusty Stromer contributed 20 points and Dante Ogbu added 16 points. Notre Dame coach Matt Sargeant had been 0-7 against the Wolverines.

Shtolzberg, a Creighton commit, took over the game in the fourth quarter. He either scored on a three or was fouled and converted free throws (he made 12 of 13 free throws overall). Trent Perry scored 17 points and Brady Dunlap had 15 points.

For the two teams to play at such a high level in a week of uncertainty gives hope for the future. Dozens of games were postponed or canceled this week.

Conversations have begun around the state on how to proceed if the surge in coronavirus cases forces more games to be canceled or postponed. Santa Barbara Unified paused all extracurricular activities on Thursday through next week and will be reassessing weekly. Montebello Unified has stopped athletic activities until Jan. 17. The Southern Section postponed its Tradition Competitive Cheer Championships for one month after too many teams had to withdraw because of positive cases.

The executive director of the California Interscholastic Federation, Ron Nocetti, said the 10 section commissioners will meet in a video conference next week to discuss ideas moving forward. “Our office has said since the beginning we would remain flexible with state and regional events,” Nocetti said.

Southern Section commissioner Rob Wigod said, “We are having discussions and continue to monitor. Our goal is how do we effectively go forward in a healthy and safe way and have full opportunities.”

Harvard-Westlake players are fully vaccinated and were tested four times this week. The Wolverines lost two opponents this week and are down four games after having their own 10-day pause for health and safety protocols.

“When we started playing last year, there weren’t 37,000 positive cases in Los Angeles County,” coach David Rebibo said. “We’re continuing to play while everything is going crazy and schedules are being changed on a daily basis. It’s really stressful.”

The uncertainty is bringing back bad memories from the start of the pandemic in March of 2020 when some students lost entire seasons.

“For them, it’s a very scary time and they’re a little freaked out and being able to do this is really important,” Rebibo said. “Our players are incredibly resilient. We are thrilled to be able to play and compete.”

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