As Riverhead coach David Spinella looked onto the court Monday night inside the sweltering gym at Sachem East High School, he saw three eighth graders and a pair of sophomores at one point.
And he also saw what could end up as Riverhead’s starting lineup come November and the start of the varsity season.
For a young team, summer is a valuable time to begin putting the pieces together and building toward the future. And the Blue Waves have shown a commitment to the game, including playing in the Town of Brookhaven Summer League, where they lost to Longwood Monday, 39-22.
“They’re really working hard together,” Spinella said. “Today they just didn’t have it. And that was frustrating to watch.”
With Shanice Allen’s graduation, the Blue Waves will rely on a young core moving forward.
The good news is, three of those players already have varsity experience.
Forwards Sam Dunn and Dezarae Brown both started games last year as freshmen. And Kim Ligon opened the season as the starting point guard while just a seventh grader before her role was scaled back.
It’s a busy summer for all three, who are all basketball-first athletes.
Dunn and Brown play on the same Amateur Athletic Union basketball team. And three other Riverhead players are also playing AAU ball this summer in addition to the Riverhead team.
“They’re honing their own personal skills and bringing that to the team now,” Spinella said. “We have a stronger post presence than we’ve had in a long time.”
Dunn played a big role on the varsity last year and will become an even more important player over the next few years with her rebounding and low-post scoring. While she’s still only going into her sophomore year, she’s already developed into one of the team’s leaders. Spinella said Joanna Messina, who was called up to varsity during the season last year as a sophomore, has become another leader on the team.
“As far as leading by example, they come every day, they always go 100 percent,” Spinella said. “As a whole, they really are feeding off each other. They really are a family.”
At the start of last season, Spinella talked about how he enjoyed getting back to teaching some of the basics that comes with a younger team. The year before that, the Blue Waves had a veteran team of seniors that advanced to the state semifinals.
Now, it’ll be even more of that teaching.
The lesson Monday was, no matter the game or circumstance, players need to go 100 percent when on the court. Spinella kept the group for a longer than usual talk following the game, just to make the message got across.
“Longwood’s better than us for sure,” he said. “They’re bigger, stronger, older. I had no problem with that — just the way we were hanging our heads and jogging. We were supposed to be pressing and we’re all back at halfcourt.”
Coming off a long weekend and playing inside on a hot day likely didn’t help their cause, but Spinella wasn’t looking for excuses, even if it’s just summer ball.
“You put the jersey on, you got to go as hard as you can,” he said. “But tomorrow’s another day and Wednesday’s another game.”
On Tuesday night’s during the summer the girls get together to work with a strength and conditioning coach. They also practice together and take time to work on their individual games, Spinella said.
“They all come and they all bust their butt,” he said.
The hard work now should pay off in the future. Most of the girls on the summer team are getting their first taste of varsity action. Some girls were only on the middle school team last winter.
“It’s all stuff that in the long run I think benefit,” Spinella said. “They’re committed and they bought in and that’s the most important thing.”