ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead senior Shakiyla Sykes dribbles the ball up court in front of teammate Jessica Cheatom in the Blue Waves’ scrimmage Tuesday at Miller Place.
At times this year, the Riverhead girls basketball team may field a lineup on the court that features no one older than a 10th-grader. A youth movement that began last year will continue into this season for the Blue Waves, who lost their top two scorers to graduation.
While the Blue Waves may be young, they do return a team with varsity experience, led by the towering duo of sophomores Sam Dunn and Dezarae Brown.
Both started last year as freshmen and now with a year of experience under them, they’ll take on even greater roles this season. Brown is listed at 6 feet and Dunn at 5-10.
“I think we might be bigger than we’ve ever been,” said Riverhead coach David Spinella.
Dunn’s all-around game has improved this season, Spinella said, and she’ll be relied on to provide some of the offense.
“She’s really worked on her offensive skills,” Spinella said. “She’s a lot smoother with the basketball. She can handle the ball a lot better and is stronger.”
Brown will be key on the boards for Riverhead, getting put-backs for some easy hoops, Spinella said. The Blue Waves have an advantage in that both Brown and Dunn can run well and get up and down the court in a hurry. That could lead to fastbreak opportunities for both players.
The Blue Waves will feature a backcourt of eighth-graders. Kim Ligon, who played on varsity last year, will play the shooting guard. Kate McCarney, in her first year on varsity, will handle much of the point guard duties.
“She’s making quite a jump but she’s played a lot of AAU with the Long Island Lightning,” Spinella said. “She has stepped in and done a tremendous job. The ball’s going to be in an eighth-grader’s hands most of the season.”
For all the youth on the team, the Blue Waves do have some seniors as well. Carolyn Carrera will likely get some big minutes along with Kyra Miller, Spinella said. The Blue Waves also have seniors Destiny McElroy, Shakiyla Sykes and Gabby Green.
Carrera, a star lacrosse and soccer player, brings leadership to the team with the way she approaches everything she does, Spinella said.
“She approaches it all with such a businesslike mentality,” Spinella said. “The kids appreciate that because she wants to win.”
The Blue Waves expect to continue to rely on their defense to ignite the offense. Spinella said the team has a lot of room for growth and he expects the Blue Waves to only get better and better as the season progresses.
“Defense is something that takes time, especially to play it the way we want to play it,” Spinella said. “With a lot of young kids, it’s a lot to learn.”
The Blue Waves also return juniors Joanna Messina, Jessica Cheatom and Amanda Baron.
Riverhead opens the non-league season Friday with a home game against The Stony Brook School. The league season kicks off Dec. 17 with a challenging game at North Babylon.
As a first-year varsity coach, Adam Lievre has a problem most coaches would love to have: competition for playing time between a number of kids who can all play.
“There are lot of girls of equal talent,” said Lievre, who replaces Dennis Haughney as the girls coach at Shoreham-Wading River. “They’re trying to prove themselves so that’s been very beneficial.”
The Wildcats have been a perennial playoff team in recent years and that figures to remain in place this year. Shoreham returns a strong nucleus in Shannon Rosati, Taylor Whiffen, Courtney Clasen and Kerri Clark.
The biggest question early on this season has been who will fill out the rotation next to those four.
The Wildcats feature a mostly veteran team with seven seniors and five juniors. Lievre said two freshmen will play varsity.
Sophie Triandafils, who played varsity lacrosse last year, and Mackenzie Zajac, are the two freshmen. Lievre said Zajac is a year-round basketball player who plays AAU ball as well.
Year-round basketball players are a rarity these days, but the Wildcats have two of them in Zajac and Whiffen.
The Wildcats will feature some new wrinkles on offense this year with a new coach. But their staple will continue to be defense. The Wildcats have always excelled by their defense fueling fastbreak opportunities.
With quick, athletic players like Rosati and Clasen roaming the court, the Wildcats should be a tough matchup for teams. An added bonus this year for Shoreham is the new 10-second rule, which forces a team to advance the ball past half-court within 10 seconds.
The Wildcats played together during the summer in the Town of Brookhaven League and won the small school championship. During that time, it gave the younger players a chance to mix in with the older group and develop some chemistry. Lievre, who was previously the junior varsity coach, also got a chance to get reacquainted with some of his former players.
The Wildcats scrimmaged Riverhead Monday and Lievre said he liked what he saw in the team’s first action. Shoreham will kick off the regular season Saturday with a non-league game at home against Babylon. The league season begins Tuesday at home against East Hampton.
Looking ahead to the league, Lievre knows there’s one team to look out for: John Glenn. “We all know that’s our big game of the year,” Lievre said.
The Wildcats defeated Glenn in double overtime in the final game of the regular season last year, but lost to the Knights in the playoffs.