Photos by  Mouna Rashid of Salam Stars vs. Eastbrook Academy Warriors Jan. 9 game

2023-24 Salam School Girls Varsity Basketball Team closes in on a second conference championship.

No one expected Salam School Girls Varsity Basketball Team to go undefeated in its conference this season. Yet, with five games to go, it is—and the team has a good shot at being Lake City Conference champions for the second year in a row.

“I think they surprised themselves and everyone else,” said Sana Abubaker of Franklin at the Lake City Conference Showcase Jan. 15 at Mount Mary University in Wauwatosa. The team captain of the 2022-23 conference champion Salam Stars and 2023 Conference Player of the Year, along with a smattering of other Salam Stars’ fans, braved frigid single-digit temperatures to cheer for their team at the midday game.

Junior Aamina Farooq runs between a column of teammates and coaches in a hand-slapping pre-game ritual.

“I had pretty low expectations coming into the season,” Salam School’s co-athletic director and girls’ varsity basketball coach Kassidi Macak told the Wisconsin Muslim Journal after the Jan. 15 game against Faith Christian High School, which Salam Stars won handily, 45 to 22. “I thought there were some better teams in the conference that would probably easily beat us.”

Macak remembered a call in the summer from Abubaker, who coached the Salam Stars in a summer league. “She said, ‘Coach, we’ve got a problem. We can’t score.’

“I laughed because I knew that was going to happen,” Macak admitted. Four players graduated, leaving a young team to fill their shoes. 

“We lost Sana (Abubaker) and two other first-team players. Sana was averaging almost 20 points a game and the two others were averaging 10 points and 10 rebounds a game. Our next leading scorer made only about two points a game.”

Macak told Abubaker, “Well, they will have to figure it out. Someone’s going to have to step up.”

As it turns out, the whole team did.

5-foot-7 junior Aseel Ishtaiwi, No. 3, plays center for Salam Stars.

Turning it around

When school started, Macak’s players told her about a freshman they wanted on the team. Macak had seen the new Salam School student, 5-foot-7 Dena Alfoqha, in gym class. “She has a knack for the ball. She’s naturally gifted and understands where to be, where the ball is going, and she goes and gets it,” Macak said. 

Macak strolled over to her and asked, “So, do you play basketball?”

“I love basketball,” Alfoqha answered. “I played in my middle school.” Her new teammates were thrilled.

But it was not just new talent that made Salam Stars winners, Macak said. It was the way they played together.

Their first game was Nov. 17 against St. Francis, Macak’s alma mater. “The coach was my coach when I was there,” she said. “I told the girls, ‘This is a game I really want to win!’”

One obstacle they faced was height. Salam Stars run short for basketball players; sophomore Leen Shahin at 5-foot-8 is the tallest. They’d be up against St. Francis’ 6-foot-2 player. “We were intimidated coming in,” Macak said. “I told them, ‘You know what? We’ll double-team her. We’ll figure it out.’”

Salam Stars played “so tough, so intensely. I was totally shocked,” Macak said. Although they lost the game 50 to 59, I knew then that we’re really good. 

“I went into a different gear. ‘We’re going to try to repeat as conference champions,’ I told them. ‘I want to make some noise. Let’s do this!’

“And we’ve just been rolling ever since.”

Sophomore Maysem Abubaker, No. 31, was MVP of the Salam School vs. Faith Christian rematch.

The big game

Salam Stars racked up wins against its conference opponents throughout November and December. Although Salam Stars beat Faith Christian 65 to 42 early in the season, Macak anticipated their re-match in January would be a challenge.

“Going into this game, I thought there were only a handful of teams that might beat us, and they were one of them. The other tough teams are Chesterton and St. Augustine Prep. Beating Faith twice would be a big tone-setter.”

Watching the re-match, Salam Middle School English teacher Owen Ward told a WMJ reporter, “Last year our team went undefeated all season, although they made an early exit from the playoffs. I’m very proud of all their efforts,” adding, “Six members of the team were in my English class last year.”

Ream Bahhur, a Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition board member, was there, too. She (and her daughter Sana Abubaker) kept a close eye on No. 31, 5-foot-2 point guard Maysem Abubaker, Ream’s daughter and Sana’s sister.

“I come to all the games,” Bahhur said. “I missed one because I was sick in bed but the other moms took videos and sent me clips.”

Sophomore Leen Shahin’s mother Khitam Shahin of Oak Creek sat next to Bahhur. “The team practices every day for two hours after school,” she told the reporter. A couple of players from Salam School Boys Varsity Team sat nearby.

Early in the season, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel encouraged everyone to keep an eye on sophomore Ola Bahhur, one of two of Ream’s nieces on the team. It listed her as one of 15 up-and-coming players “under the radar.”

Salam Stars lined up for the national anthem, wearing white hijabs, long-sleeved tee-shirts and sweatpants. The Stars received a waiver from the WIAA, permitting them to play in modest clothing and hijabs.

They draped black and white checked kufiyas, traditional Palestinian scarves, on their shoulders, as did Coach Macak. “The girls came to me and said they wanted to wear them in solidarity with the Palestinians who are suffering in Gaza,” she explained after the game. 

Faith Christian Eagles stood nearby in their light blue shorts and basketball tops.

Assistant coaches Jumana Badwan and Safiya Schaub, along with Coach Macak and co-athletic director David Petrick watched the tip-off from the sidelines. Macak had on her 2012 Wisconsin State Champion ring for inspiration, she said. She won it as a player for the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha in a game that went into double overtime and ended with a score of 117 to 110, she recalled. 


Faith Christian secured the ball and dashed off a basket. Salam Stars on the bench began cheering for their players on the floor, shouting out encouragement and instructions, as did the fans in the stands.

“Stay on her, Dena.”

“Come on, Ola.”

“Good job.”

“Use the backboard!”

“Get open!”

A foul was called and Abubaker stepped up to the free-throw line. “Bismillah,” someone called from the stands, an Arabic expression that means “in God’s name” that is used before taking an action. “That’s okay,” she said when the ball missed the basket. “Shoot a little bit higher.”

“Rebound!” another shouted.

Abubaker’s neon green shoes and Alfogha’s hot pink ones danced across the floor, as Milwaukee Bucks’ stars Brook Lopez’s and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s did at Fiserv Forum the night before. 

Salam Stars controlled the ball, moved down the court and took plenty of shots, many of which did not go in. Still, they won 45 to 22.

“I was shocked to see Dena had only nine points,” Macak said after the game. “She had a lot of what we call ‘bunnies.’ They’re lay-ups that go right at the basket but not in. I would attribute it to being the first time they ever played on a college floor. It is so much longer and wider than a high school court. Our gym isn’t even a high school regulation size. They were probably playing 12 extra feet lengthwise, running up and down. They’re going to get fatigued.”

“Defense will win games,” noted assistant coach Safiya Schaub and MMWC Youth Coordinator. She was team captain in 2018-19, her senior year, “the year we got all the media attention,” she said. 

Macak joined Salam School as the Girls Varsity Basketball Team coach Schaub’s sophomore year. “Before she came, we were passionate, but we lost a lot of games. We didn’t really have a high basketball I.Q.,” Schaub recalled. “What she has done for our girls’ basketball program is quite phenomenal. She coaches from a place of mutual respect.”

Macak’s skills got the players’ attention, Schaub said. “She could really play. She knew the game well. If we were in a tight spot and down by two with only a minute left, she could write something out on the spot and we’d have a game plan.

Schaub described Macak’s coaching style as “a good combination of holding us accountable and empowering us. She taught us things that I know sound cliché but really matter, like never give up and be your best self.”

“We started breaking records and got the media’s attention,” she said. First, they hit the local daily newspaper in 2018 and 2019, and local TV. Then the Washington Post, Islamic Horizons, CBS, CNN and others covered them before they were picked up in international news.

A team of MVPs

“The team really bought into Coach Kass’s fundamental beliefs in Basketball 101: running the floor, passing, cutting and being disciplined,” said co-athletic director David Petrick. “This team hustles like crazy and plays the style of basketball Coach Kass taught them. It’s a fun group of players to watch.

“The progression of this basketball program since Coach Kass has taken over the past six years is very impressive. She has done a spectacular job!”

Salam School athletic directors Dave Petrick and Coach Kassidi Macak

“I’m looking forward to seeing if they can achieve winning the Lake City Conference for the second straight year as well as finally getting past the first regional game in the state tournament,” Petrick continued.

The team has stars, like game MVP Maysem Abubaker, but she is not alone, Macak said. “I can say something about everyone on this team.”

Like Abubaker, Macak played point guard in high school, so she “may yell a bit more at Abubaker,” she said, like when Leen Shahin got the rebound and was looking for the point guard. “I yelled to Maysem, ‘You’re the point guard! Go get the basketball!’ She looked at me and nodded, like, ‘Yes, I got you.’ She listens, understands and never makes that mistake again. She knows what her role is on the team, which is huge.

“She’s like Bobby Portis on the Bucks,” Macak said. “He calls himself ‘a dog.’ Maysem is a dog on defense … She will outwork you. She steals; she gets deflections; she tips the ball out of people’s hands; and then she’s down the court, pushing the tempo.”

In a post-game interview on W7 Live’s stream of the game, 5-foot-2 Abubaker was asked, “You’re definitely outsized … How do you continue winning?”

“Playing to your strengths,” she said. “Using my speed, using my teammates. We’ve been playing together a long time; we have chemistry. We know when to look for the ball or to make quick passes.”

“You’re 8-0 in the conference, 12-2 overall,” the announcer said. “What are your goals for this year?”

“First, going undefeated in the conference, then winning our first regional game. Our girls’ program has never won a regional game.

“We thought this would be a rebuilding year … We surprised ourselves. We surprised our fans. We’ve just got to keep up the momentum.”


Coach Kassidi Macak (far left) and assistant coach Safiya Schaub (far right) pose for a photo with the 2023-24 Salam School Varsity Girls Basketball Team.

What’s next?

After the Faith Christian rematch victory, Salam School has remained undefeated in its conference but Heritage Christian beat them by 52 points Jan. 19.

“They’re in our regional and that game gives us a better idea of where we rank among those teams,” Macak said. After the first 10 minutes, Heritage Christian “started to full-court press us and we couldn’t handle it … but it’s made us a better team having played an opponent of that caliber.”

Salam Stars won Jan. 25 against conference challenger Chesterton Academy 36 to 29. “We dominated the first half, but struggled offensively in the second,” she explained. “We don’t get the opportunity to play many close games, so it was a great learning experience. I’m extremely proud of them for staying calm and handling business.”

The big game on the horizon is against St. Augustine Prep, Thursday, Feb. 1, at Eastbrook Academy, Macak said. Winning it will mean going undefeated in the conference.

“The future is bright for this young team,” she exclaimed.