With 5:50 left in the first quarter, Engstler caught an errant pass from Jenna Brown, opening up a fast-break opportunity for her East Team.
The Gatorade New York State Player of the Year pushed the ball up court, and as she passed the three-point line, Brown swooped in, attempting to run through, avoid contact, and disrupt Engstler’s momentum toward the rim.
Engstler effortlessly moved the ball behind her back, right to left, and scooped in a lay-up with her right-hand, her second bucket of the game.
“I didn’t plan it out previously,” a smiling Engstler later said. “I knew that’s exactly what she was going to do. So I thought, if I could just get it into my left hand somehow, the only way I could do it is to put it behind my back and get an open layup. It ended up working in my favor.”
Those who had arrived in time for the 2:30 p.m. tip-off were delighted. Among them, opposing head coach of the West Team Bob Mackey of Christ the King, who coached Engstler as a varsity-level freshman at King prior to her move to St. Francis Prep, where she sat her sophomore season due to CHSAA transfer rules.
Ideally, more would’ve been in attendance in what became a 89-88 thrilling victory for the East, where Engstler, who finished with nine points, four rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks, earned Most Valuable Player honors.
Engstler will embark on a college career at Syracuse University beginning in the fall, and one of her many goals is to help progress women in sports.
“With women in athletics, you have to really take a step and realize that it’s a sexist world and it always will be,” Engstler told BQE Media during JBC’s Media Day on Saturday at the Brooklyn Nets Training Center in Sunset Park. “But I have a great mom who taught me that you have to get out of your comfort zone to show other women.
“I’ve had girls come up to me who just wanted a picture or just felt like that’s what they wanted to aspire to be and it feels good,” she added. “You’re making a change for the better. One day, we’re going to get the same kind of acknowledgement as men.”
Part of Engstler’s unwavering confidence is spawned from the growth of the women’s game, which continues to ascend in skill and athleticism.
Fellow JBC All-American, UConn-bound 6-foot-4 Olivia Nelson-Ododa, a teammate of Engstler’s for the weekend, competed in the McDonald’s All-American Dunk contest in late March, and capped off the girls’ Jordan Brand practice at the Nets facility with a dunk that sent the two teams into a frenzy.
“This is what people like,” said Engstler, also a McDonald’s All-American, St. Francis Prep’s first. “We’re getting more athletic, we’re trying new things, we’re trying to aspire to do what the guys do, which in a way is a good thing for us.”
When Engstler committed to Syracuse this past October, before averaging 18 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals per game as a senior, it wasn’t exclusively a basketball decision.
The ambitious forward intends to major in Syracuse’s revered sports broadcasting program, where it’s Newhouse Sports Media Center has spawned the careers of many.
With a love of writing, her favorite subject is English and she’s branched out to poetry, keeping some in the back of her phone and taking a class in her final high school semester.
“I want to stay close to the game but I wasn’t really interested in the medical field or being a doctor or a psychologist, so I asked, ‘what do I do?’” she said. “My goal is to go to the WNBA or go overseas.
“I feel like trying to get my master’s right before I leave, then coming back and being able to have all these connections to get out a get a job,” she added. “Not even for the money, just to continue to stay with the sport.”
Engstler, who grew up on Roosevelt Island and lived in Middle Village until she was seven, frequented Juniper Valley Park growing up and still plays there sometimes when in the neighborhood.
Part of her upbringing entailed competing against the boys in the streets and at the CYO level.
The physicality of regularly playing against grown men helps, especially one in particular whom she recalls from her playground days.
“He’d foul me, he’d throw me, he’d laugh, and it just pissed me off,” said the Resurrection Ascension Middle School alum. “It would get me physical and I think that’s how I got here honestly. He didn’t care because that’s my friend. We’re still close.”
Becoming ESPN’s eleventh-ranked senior in the nation was unexpected, after really having one stellar junior season to her name following the transfer from King.
Soon, the admitted fan of underdog teams will undergo a new journey, joining a Syracuse program coming off of six straight NCAA Tournament trips.