The Joe Read experience has hit Southold.
Coaching changes are nothing new for the girls basketball program at Southold High School. For the fourth time in three years, the team has a new coach, but perhaps the First Settlers have never had a coach quite like Read before.
Read follows the recent coaching succession that saw Dennis Reilly, Amanda Barrilo and then Katie Hennes run the First Settlers. In Read, Southold has a coach formed from his own unique mold. The colorful Read, with his wavy white hair, glasses and ever-present smile, brings energy, enthusiasm and his trademark sense of humor to his new post.
“He is a different type of breed,” forward Melissa Rogers said. “He’s totally different than any other coach we have had.”
Read, 56, who coached Bishop McGann-Mercy’s junior varsity team the past five seasons, also has an extensive background coaching football and boys basketball. However, this marks the first time that the Shelter Island resident has been the head coach of a varsity girls basketball team. “I’m the oldest rookie,” he said.
Read has taken over a Southold team that remains largely intact from the one that reached the Southeast Region Class C final last season. With a loss to powerhouse John A. Coleman Catholic in the regional final, Southold fell one win shy of a place in the state semifinals, winding up with a 16-7 record.
Lauren Ficurilli is the only player that the First Settlers lost from that team who saw significant playing time, so the outlook is bright for Southold, which will join forces with Greenport to form a consolidated team and compete as a Class B team this coming winter. “It may be a new coach, but it’s not a new team,” said forward Nicole Busso.
Read likes the players he has to work with, including incoming seniors Sydney Campbell, Carley Staples, Busso and Rogers. Busso playfully dubbed the foursome “The Fab Four.”
“They know each other really well. The only thing I can do is screw it up,” Read said, letting out an infectious laugh.
Rogers said: “He told us he’s in it for the long run, and he really knows his stuff. He’s very verbal and it’s a shock to our team because we had quiet coaches before, really. I think it’s a really good change. … He has so much energy. He can really bring us to that next level.”
Read’s coaching past included time as the head coach of McGann-Mercy’s varsity football and boys basketball teams. Those aware of his background must have done a double take Monday evening at the sight of Reed coaching Southold against McGann-Mercy and the Monarchs coach he used to work with, Jacki Paton, in a Town of Brookhaven Summer League game at Shoreham-Wading River High School.
“That was bittersweet,” Read said after Southold’s 25-17 win. “I’ve been at Mercy for a while, so it was hard looking over there at those girls. Most of them played for me last year.”
As a coach, Read brings intensity to the court, and he’s not afraid to think outside the box. One season, as the coach of McGann-Mercy’s boys basketball team, he devised an aggressive, hounding defense that, while not necessarily making for beautiful basketball, made life miserable for opposing teams. After one particularly grueling game that occasionally took on the appearance of a rugby match as McGann-Mercy players hit the floor and tried to wrestle the ball away from the opponent, Read was asked what type of defense he employed. “That’s my own special creation,” he said, rubbing his hands together with a proud grin on his face.
Read said he likes what he has seen from his players this summer. “They’re physically tough, but they’re mentally very tough, too,” he said. “They have a real good court presence. … I think the sky’s the limit with this group, I really do.”
Southold capitalized on 30 turnovers by McGann-Mercy and held a 13-4 advantage on the offensive boards to win Monday night’s game and bring its record to 4-4. Busso was her productive self, scoring 6 of Southold’s first 8 points. She finished with a game-high 12 points. Staples had 8 points (most of them from a pair of 3-point shots), 5 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists and 2 blocks.
Southold shot 5 for 9 from the field during a 13-0 run that gave the First Settlers a 16-9 lead early in the second half.
One of Southold’s top players, Rogers, watched the game from the bench in street clothes, with her troublesome right knee bandaged. Last October Rogers injured the knee in a fall league game, spraining a medial collateral ligament. In addition, she said, she has a faulty knee alignment and patellar tendonitis. “It’s painful,” she said.
Rogers said that if she needs to undergo surgery, she hopes to complete her physical therapy in time to be back on the court in November.
“I’m crossing my fingers,” she said. “I’m going to be training in the gym every day, going to [physical therapy] as much as I can and really trying to get in shape and finally have a healthy, no-injury season.”
When a healthy Rogers does return to the court, she will rejoin a team expected to play an up-tempo style and perhaps make another run deep into the postseason.
“It’s going to be really a great team to watch,” Rogers said. “I think we have a lot to offer as a team. Last year was the most unbelievable year I could ever think of with this team. All we want to do is go higher and go to states. No one said we could go as far as we did last year, and we really believed in ourselves and as a long as we do that we can do anything.”
In the meantime, Read has committed to his new basketball home.
“I’ve been around,” he said. “I’m going to stick here.”