So, apparently there is life after Shanice Allen. Not only that, but it might not be a bad life.
The Riverhead girls basketball team lost a lot this past spring when its all-time leading scorer, Allen, left high school behind. She is headed to play for Pace University. In her wake, the Blue Waves have been left with only three players with prior varsity experience: Dezarae Brown, Sam Dunn and Kim Ligon. It would only be natural for one to expect a major rebuilding project for Riverhead. The thing is, coach Dave Spinella doesn’t consider this to be a rebuilding phase at all.
“I don’t think we’re rebuilding, I really don’t,” he said. “By the end of the next year we’ll be in the [League III] mix.”
He continued: “We refuse to take steps back. We’re going to keep going forward.”
Call Riverhead a mystery team. Well, at least a mystery for the rest of Suffolk County, which may be anticipating a big drop by the Blue Waves.
To that the Riverheaders might respond, “Not so fast.”
As it turns out, for all of their inexperience, the Blue Waves have not done badly in the Town of Brookhaven Summer League. With their 23-21 loss to Smithtown East at Sachem East High School on Monday, their record evened out at 4-4. Riverhead’s only blowout loss was by 19 points to a strong Longwood team. Its other two losses were by 3 points each to Central Islip and Centereach.
Despite the fact that Riverhead has only one senior on its summer roster, Carolyn Carrera, the sense is that the team chemistry is coming along fine.
As for coming in under the radar, Dunn seems to like that. “I think everyone’s so used to hearing ‘Riverhead’ and the first thing that comes to their mind is Shanice,” the sophomore forward said. “I like the feeling that people aren’t expecting so much of us. No one really knows that we’re there.”
Riverhead may not have the big names it has had in the past (Tiffany Trent, Jalyn Brown, Melodee Riley, Allen), but it is stocked with young talent that is progressing.
“I think if we play the way that we’re capable of playing that we will surprise some teams,” said Ligon, an eighth-grade shooting guard.
Even in defeat they have shown signs of encouragement. Take Monday’s game, for example. Playing in the same gym in which they lost a Suffolk County Class AA quarterfinal to Sachem East this past winter, the Blue Waves showed tenacity. They twice trailed by as many as 9 points before pulling ahead, 20-18, when Carrera sank a big 3-point shot. Smithtown East (4-4) regained the lead at 23-20 before Dunn dropped a free throw for the final point with 36.1 seconds to go. Riverhead’s only attempt at the basket after that was a shot by Dunn that glanced off the glass and the rim.
Riverhead actually shot a higher percentage from the field, 36.4 to 26.1, and outrebounded Smithtown East by 19-7. But the Bulls went 10 for 18 from the foul line. Riverhead went 2 for 12 on free throws.
Dunn was Riverhead’s leading scorer with 7 points in addition to 4 steals, 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block.
Spinella said the biggest adjustment newcomers to varsity basketball must make is the speed of the game. But Dunn mentioned another factor: nerves. “I remember I started last year as a freshman, and every time I got on the court, I was like shaking I was so nervous,” she recalled. “It’s more pressure for everyone.”
The new Riverhead has a decidedly different look, with an emphasis on team.
“It’s a total team effort, man, it really is,” Spinella said. “Any night it can be someone different. It’s great.”
Asked if there are going to be any surprises among the new players once the school season starts, Spinella replied, “Nobody knows these kids, so everybody is going to be a surprise.”