It’s been only five months since the end of the high school basketball season, yet Riverhead coach Dave Spinella has already seen his team grow by leaps and bounds.
“We’re a thousand times better than we were last year,” he said.
The Blue Waves faced plenty of growing pains last year with a starting lineup filled with underclassmen. For most of the season, the Blue Waves resembled more of a junior varsity team, or even a junior high team, based on the ages of the players on the court. Spinella hoped those early struggles his young team faced would pay dividends later.
With the core of the team made up of girls who play basketball year-round, the Blue Waves are quickly making strides toward climbing back into the upper echelon of their league.
In the Town of Brookhaven Summer League, the Blue Waves moved to 4-1 with a 32-25 victory over Central Islip Monday afternoon at Patchogue-Medford High School. Nearly the entire team of returning players came out for the summer league, which is no surprise considering how much basketball most of the girls play.
“These kids play non-stop,” Spinella said.
Spinella estimated the team’s core — Sam Dunn, Dezarae Brown, Faith Johnson-DeSilvia, Kim Ligon and Kate McCarney — played about 60 games during the spring on various teams, traveling to tournaments across the country from Florida to Virginia to Washington, D.C. They all play on separate Amateur Athletic Union teams.
Dunn and Brown are going into their junior years while Johnson-DeSilvia, Ligon and McCarney will all be freshmen.
“By the end of the season last year to now, we would beat ourselves by 20,” Spinella said. “We have such a long way to go, but we’re so far ahead of where I thought we’d be at this point.”
The relentless, full-court pressure defense that forces turnovers and leads to easy baskets has been the staple of Riverhead’s successful teams in recent years. The Blue Waves showed off some of that defense in Monday’s win.
One play in particular epitomized what the Blue Waves hope to see a lot of this upcoming winter. As Central Islip tried advancing the ball up court, Johnson-Desilvia leapt and swatted down a pass with her outstretched arms. The ball deflected to the left toward McCarney. Johnson-Desilvia cut back toward the basket and McCarney fed a perfect pass to lead her into a layup. The basket tied the game at 19, rallying the Blue Waves back from a 10-point deficit.
“Our defense won us the game,” Spinella said. “And our heart and hustle at the end.”
On a day when the offense was sluggish for the Blue Waves, their defense fueled a 20-2 run from late in the first half into the second. The Blue Waves gave up just six points in the second half.
While wins and losses don’t matter so much in the summer, Spinella said it was still important to build some confidence heading into the varsity season. Last year, the Blue Waves won four games total in the summer. They’ve reached that mark in five games this year.
“We were able to get pressure and make it a transition game and get up and down, which is what we want to do,” Spinella said. “They’re starting to get the principles of our press, which is really good.”
Leading into the summer league, the girls came together during open gym sessions for about a month to work on shooting and drills, Spinella said. They’ve also put in a lot of strength and conditioning work since last season ended, he said.
The summer league regular season runs through the end of July and playoffs start in August.