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Townsend Harris frosh joins city Heat

Sierra Berkel made it look easy in the winter. In her freshman season at Townsend Harris, the 5-foot-9 forward averaged 22.9 points per game, good enough for eighth in the entire PSAL. She became one of the ‘A’ league’s rising stars while juggling her school’s demanding academics.

The learning curve has gotten tougher this summer, though.

Berkel is not yet a standout on NYC Heat Flaherty, her basketball travel team. Everyone she plays against is more experienced and the competition level is far beyond what it is at Townsend Harris.

“In her league, she’s used to just dropping her head and going to the hoop,” Heat Coach Huey Flaherty said after a game July 13 during the USJN East Coast Challenge at Kean University in Union, N.J. “She’s big enough to do that.”

Berkel has taken the new challenges in stride. She’s a sponge, one who wants to improve as much as she possibly can. Her height and strength make her a forward at Harris and even with the undersized Heat, but she knows she will have to improve her perimeter skills because her future in college is at guard.

“It’ll help me get better,” Berkel, 14, said of the increased competition this summer.

Flaherty knows she will. He expects her to grow a few more inches before all is said and done and thinks she could be a scholarship player on the next level. There is plenty of time for that, but one thing Flaherty knows for sure is that Berkel will absorb any advice he can give her.

“She’s really smart and she wants to learn,” the coach said. “I tell her, there’s about 40 years of knowledge I can give you and you’re gonna learn this in about two months.”

Even though it’s summer, Berkel is still balancing academics and basketball. She missed the Blue Chip USA Invitational at Penn State last week because she did not want to miss her first few days at science camp, a program run out of the Intrepid in Manhattan. Berkel had to fill out an application and write an essay in order to be invited into the camp. It runs Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“It’s about exploring different fields in science,” she explained.

Berkel will be exploring different courts with the Heat in July. Next week, she’ll be on her way to the USJN/Nike National Championships in Washington, D.C. It’ll be a very different environment than the one she enjoyed this year at Townsend Harris, where a chant — “Sie-Serra, Sie Sie-Sierra” — was developed among the students to cheer for her.

“I’m a shy person,” Berkel said with a smile. “But I like the appreciation.”

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