By Michael Sudhalter
Lilly Yalovsky has played varsity girls’ basketball for Akiba Yavneh Academy (AYA) since her freshman season of 2021-2022.
The AYA junior always looks forward to the Weiner Basketball Tournament at Beth Tfiloh in Baltimore. The post-Thanksgiving/pre-Hanukkah event has taken place for more than 30 years.
It features basketball teams from Jewish schools across the United States and Canada. In previous years, teams from Israel have competed as well, but they did not make the trip this season due to the war.
Yalovsky, the daughter of David Yalovsky and Dr. Ilana Zeltser, loves the event because it’s about so much more than basketball.
“It’s a really fun experience and we share a common love of basketball,” Yalovsky said. “We become friends with the players from the other teams. We have different events throughout the week, such as bowling. We have memories we’ll never forget.”
AYA (7-3 on the season) went 6-2 in Baltimore, finishing second in the tournament. Their only losses came against a team from Toronto — where basketball is a fall sport. That team was completing its season.
Competing against Jewish schools is definitely a contrast to the rest of the season when AYA competes against Christian and secular schools, primarily from the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex.
Yalovsky enjoys that as well, because it’s an opportunity to get to know players from various backgrounds. AYA is able to teach them about Jewish culture through the game of basketball.
The Bulldogs opened the season with a 50-39 win over Shelton School on Nov. 14.
“One of the kids on the Shelton team is Jewish,” Yalovsky said. “Before the game, (the Shelton player’s mother) gave out white roses with a passage of prayer of support for Israel and the Jewish people.”
Yalovsky, who is averaging 18.1 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists through 10 games, earned All-State Honorable Mention accolades last season, along with District Offensive Player of the Year and First Team All-District Honors. She’s one of three co-captains for the AYA team.
“It’s definitely very helpful to have one of the best players in the state on your team,” said Zachary Pollack, AYA first-year girls’ basketball head coach. “She’s a leader on and off the court. She handles the ball and pressure really well. She’s the leading scorer almost every game.”
In past seasons, Yalovsky has played point guard for the Bulldogs, but Pollack wants to broaden opportunities for her this winter.
Yalovsky competes in basketball year-round through Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) competitive teams.
“I love the game itself,” Yalovsky said. “The competitiveness and the energy of opportunities you can create for yourself and others (is special).”
AYA will not play basketball games during its winter break, but Yalovsky will be busy honing her hoops skills.
For the first time in her basketball career, Yalovsky will travel abroad to compete in sport. This time, it’s part of the Pan American Maccabi Games, Dec. 27–Jan. 4, in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’m very excited,” Yalovsky said.
Yalovsky’s future plans include a possible Gap Year in Israel and playing college basketball. Her mother, Ilana, walked on to the team at Columbia University, a Division I member of the Ivy League. Her father, David, played basketball and hockey while growing up in Montreal.
Basketball is a family activity, as Yalovsky’s brother, Jake, is a freshman on the AYA varsity boys’ team and Emma, a sixth grader, plays middle school basketball.
Yalovsky would like to attend Yeshiva University–Stern College for Women, Emory University or Washington University in St. Louis to pursue a career in computer science or engineering.
Before she heads off to college in the fall of 2025, Yalovsky plans to enjoy the next year and a half at AYA, in the classroom and on the court.
“I love the dynamic of AYA — I really believe in the Jewish education,” Yalovsky said. “You become friends with people in different grades because it’s such a tight-knit community. Especially with everything going on right now in Israel and all of the antisemitism in America and the world, I’m very fortunate to go to a Jewish school. (I’m fortunate) to be able to represent my Jewish identity freely without any fear.”