08/07/14 1:00pm
08/07/2014 1:00 PM
Riverhead guard Kate McCarney drives toward the basket against Deer Park Wednesday night. (Credit: Garret Meade)

Riverhead guard Kate McCarney drives toward the basket against Deer Park Wednesday night. (Credit: Garret Meade)


More often than not, summer league basketball games wind up offensively challenged. Teams run few, if any, set plays. There are limited time-outs to make adjustments. Lineups are constantly shuffled.  (more…)

08/05/14 12:19am
08/05/2014 12:19 AM
Riverhead junior Sam Dunn, pictured in a game against Central Islip. (Credit: Bill Landon)

Riverhead junior Sam Dunn, pictured in a game against Central Islip, recently won a gold medal playing on a Suffolk County team in a tournament. (Credit: Bill Landon)

The members of the Riverhead girls basketball team are a good group, as their record indicates. They all bring their own individual talents and abilities to the table.

What does Sam Dunn offer?

Well, one doesn’t need to watch Dunn play for long to understand that she’s all about hustle and determination, admirable qualities, to be sure. (more…)

07/15/14 4:00pm
07/15/2014 4:00 PM
Riverhead freshman Faith Johnson-DeSilvia goes up for a basket Monday against Central Islip. (Credit: Bill Landon)

Riverhead freshman Faith Johnson-DeSilvia goes up for a basket Monday against Central Islip. (Credit: Bill Landon)

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.  (more…)

01/14/14 6:57pm
01/14/2014 6:57 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead sophomore Sam Dunn scored a team-high 19 points in Tuesday’s loss to West Islip.


Growing pains were to be expected. But they still hurt. And none more than Tuesday night.

For 28 minutes, the Riverhead girls basketball team showed glimpses of why the future looks so bright. A team that resembles more a junior high team with three eighth graders in the starting lineup, the Blue Waves used their speed and size to gradually build an 11-point lead when sophomore Dezarae Brown sank a pair of free throws with 6:32 left against West Islip.

It was the first double-digit lead for Riverhead all game. And just as it looked as if the Blue Waves were about to put away the Lions, it all came crumbling apart.

The Lions, behind a full-court press that the Blue Waves couldn’t shake, rattled off a 17-1 run over the final 5 minutes for a stunning come-from-behind victory, 52-47, at Riverhead High School. It was the fourth straight loss for the Blue Waves, who dropped to 1-6 in League III and 3-7 overall.

Afterward, a dejected Riverhead coach, Dave Spinella, shouldered the blame.

“That’s on me,” he said. “I got to get these kids to finish the game.”

It was the third straight game the Blue Waves lost after holding a fourth-quarter lead, Spinella said. The Blue Waves lost yesterday to Smithtown East by five points. On Saturday, they lost to Smithtown West by three points.

“I’d rather get blown out by 20 every game,” Spinella said. “Because it just means we’re that close. When we’re that close, regardless of our age, when you’re in a game that close, it’s on me as their coach to get them through the rest of it.”

The Blue Waves have been a perennial playoff team under Spinella the past decade. But barring a huge turnaround the second half of the league season, the Blue Waves’ streak of recent playoff appearances will come to an end. Riverhead will need to go 6-1 over its final seven league games to finish with a record that qualifies for the postseason.

For now, the Blue Waves are simply trying to find a way to pull out one of these close games.

“These kids are playing excellent basketball,” Spinella said. “They’re doing everything we ask.”

West Islip senior guard Lindsay Darrell ignited the turnaround for the Lions. She scored nine of her game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter. An all-league player last season, Darrell drained a 3-pointer with 5 minutes left that started the run.

West Islip (7-4, 4-3 League III) forced seven Riverhead turnovers in the quarter, which allowed the Lions to get some easy hoops. Sarah Feminella, Vanessa Constantino and Darrell each scored baskets over a 27-second stretch that got the Lions back within two points at 46-44 with 3:33 left.

Darrell tied the game with a driving layup with 2:40 left. Riverhead briefly regained the lead on a free throw from eighth-grader Faith Johnson-DeSilvia, but Darrell answered right back with another strong drive to the hoop, eluding Riverhead defenders all the way to the basket for a layup.

Riverhead went the final 6:55 without a field goal and shot 1-for-12 in the fourth quarter.

“It’s all about effort,” West Islip coach Chris Scharf said. “The effort wasn’t there in the beginning and it was there in the end, fortunately.”

A longtime coach at West Islip, Scharf said he has faced plenty of young teams over the years. But he noted one difference.

“It’s something to be young, but to be young and talented, which they are, it’s a good thing,” he said.

As if the loss didn’t hurt enough for Riverhead, with 1:45 left in the game, senior Kyra Miller went down hard on a drive to the basket. She remained on the court for several minutes and had to be helped off the court and into the trainer’s room. She didn’t put any pressure on her left leg with an apparent knee injury. The extent of the injury was unclear.

Spinella said he was hoping it was just a twist. Miller is a standout track and field athlete in the spring season.

Miller was the only player to come off the bench for Riverhead until the final minute. She first came into the game midway through the third quarter.

Spinella said the rotations haven’t always been as short and he’s typically looked to sub more in the first half.

“I thought our first group was playing really well,” he said. “Maybe that’s part of it. Just trying to find the right mix. No one does enough wrong to warrant being taken out of the game.”

Sophomore Sam Dunn led the Blue Waves in scoring with 19 points. She was the only player in double figures. Brown added nine and eighth grader Kate McCarney scored eight. She hit two 3-pointers.

Riverhead returns to action Thursday at home against Smithtown West.


12/04/13 6:00pm
12/04/2013 6:00 PM

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.

11/26/13 5:00pm
11/26/2013 5:00 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead sophomore Sam Dunn is one of the returning players to this year’s team.

One night a few years ago, Dave Spinella ran into former Riverhead principal John Merone at the movies. Spinella learned that the Merones’ son, Adam, was working with the New York Islanders and had started his own strength and conditioning business called Project Game Day.

Spinella, the varsity girls basketball coach, emailed Merone to see if he might be interested in working with his team.

In the fall of 2011, before the start of Riverhead’s Long Island championship season, Merone began training some of the Blue Waves’ players. He has now become like an extra coach, Spinella said. “He’s like part of our program.”

As practices for the 2013-14 season began last week, the Blue Waves were already seeing dividends from the offseason hard work.

“From August we did some bench testing and then we tested again just recently right before tryouts,” Spinella said. “The improvement on some of the kids was unbelievable.”

Some kids gained nine inches in a broad jump, Spinella said. Some knocked 4 seconds off a shuttle run and nearly five minutes of the 1 1/2 mile run.

“Crazy,” Spinella said.

The Blue Waves will feature a mostly young team this year, and Spinella hopes the extra work in the offseason will translate well on the hardwood. The Blue Waves graduated two big-time players in Shanice Allen and Naysha Trent, who handled the bulk of the scoring duties last season.

Still, the Blue Waves expect to play a similar, up-tempo, high-octane style of basketball. And the expectations remain high.

“We expect to do the things we’ve done for decades,” Spinella said.

The Blue Waves will benefit from a rule change this year that they hope will be like adding an extra defender. A 10-second rule has been implemented this season, which requires a team to advance the ball past half-court in 10 seconds. Before, there was no limit to get the ball across half-court in girls basketball.

Spinella said the NCAA adopted the new rule for this season and it quickly trickled down to lower levels.

“It’s great for us because we’re usually up the floor in two or three seconds,” Spinella said. “But defensively, to get through what we try to do defensively in our full-court press, teams try to be patient, move the ball and work for their accurate passing. But we’re going to try to force their hands a little earlier.”

Spinella said he’s been impressed early on in practice with the focus and attention to detail the kids have put in.

“Not wasting any time,” he said. “Every minute of practice is being utilized effectively, so it’s great.”

The Blue Waves under Spinella have always played a competitive schedule in non-league games and scrimmages to prepare for the season. This year is no different.

Riverhead will scrimmage against Longwood, Shoreham-Wading River and William Floyd among others. The non-league schedule features matchups against The Stony Brook School and Walt Whitman.

The Blue Waves will be tested early when the League III season opens with a road game at North Babylon Dec. 17. North Babylon and Copiague are expected to be the top two teams in the league.

“We expect to compete for our league even though we have two of the top teams in the county in our league,” Spinella said. “That makes it difficult, but we still have the same expectations.”


07/22/13 10:36pm
07/22/2013 10:36 PM
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Kim Ligon is a rarity on the Riverhead roster — a player with varsity experience from last season.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Kim Ligon is a rarity on the Riverhead roster — a player with varsity experience from last season.

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.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead's Amanda Baron taking aim during Monday's game against Smithtown East.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead’s Amanda Baron taking aim during Monday’s game against Smithtown East.

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.”


02/20/13 8:34pm
02/20/2013 8:34 PM
ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead's Shanice Allen finds her path to the basket blocked by Sachem East's Sammy Drake.

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead’s Shanice Allen finds her path to the basket blocked by Sachem East’s Sammy Drake.


Riverhead was under no misconception. The seventh-seeded Blue Waves knew they were facing a tall order, trying to upset No. 2 Sachem East in Wednesday’s Suffolk County Class AA girls basketball quarterfinal.

Even so, perhaps Riverhead couldn’t have imagined its challenge being as difficult as it was.

The most telling numbers of the game might have been these: With its reserves in the game, Sachem East put up a measly 2 points in the fourth quarter — and still won by 25!

A 25-10 third-quarter blast sent Sachem East on the way to a 63-38 trouncing of the visiting Blue Waves and its seventh straight county final four. The Flaming Arrows (16-1), who also ousted Riverhead from the playoffs in 2010, will play Bellport or Walt Whitman in a county semifinal on Saturday at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue.

“I expected a better fight, honestly, I did,” said Riverhead coach Dave Spinella.

But Sachem East, the League I champion, brought too much for Riverhead to handle. Two juniors, Katie Doherty and Kathleen Everson, spearheaded the offense for the Flaming Arrows. Doherty led all scorers with 21 points to go with 6 assists while Everson put up 16 points and 10 rebounds. Emily Carmel chipped in 11 points with the aid of three 3-pointers, and Sammy Drake grabbed 10 rebounds to go with 8 points.

ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | Naysha Trent of Riverhead searching for dribbling room around Sachem East's Emily Carmel.

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Naysha Trent of Riverhead searching for dribbling room around Sachem East’s Emily Carmel.

Doherty scored her first 6 points within the opening 3 minutes 22 seconds as Sachem East, like a basketball tsunami, flew out to a 10-0 lead. Riverhead (12-8) committed 8 of its 19 turnovers in the first quarter, which ended with Sachem East holding a 17-11 lead.

Then, Sachem East distanced itself further from Riverhead in the second quarter. While Riverhead struggled with 1-for-9 shooting from the field in the quarter, Sachem East closed out the first half on a 14-2 run for a 37-15 halftime cushion.

Another 14-2 run by Sachem East in the third quarter made the score 53-20. The rest of the game was little more than a formality.

“They execute so well,” Spinella said. “They’re big and they can move, and they can all shoot. It just makes it a tough situation. We didn’t play very well, but that’s a tribute to their defense. Our youth kind of got exposed.”

Asked what the decisive factor in the game was, Doherty replied: “I think it was really our energy. We came out really hard. Everybody was going for loose balls and rebounds, and I think that motivated us to win.”

Second-chance scoring opportunities didn’t hurt, either. Sachem East hustled for 16 offensive rebounds. The Flaming Arrows outrebounded the visitors, 43-32.

“In spots of the game, they played as well as we can play,” Sachem East coach Matt Brisson told reporters.

Asked if he was surprised by how well his team performed, Brisson answered, “They never surprise me.”

The game marked the end of the Shanice Allen era for Riverhead. With the senior’s five-year varsity career concluding, a poignant scene developed late in the game. After sinking a pair of free throws for her 13th and 14 points of the contest, Riverhead’s all-time leading scorer with over 1,400 points, was pulled from the game. When Allen, who is headed for Pace University, arrived near the bench, she received a hug from Spinella, and then more hugs from teammates.

Brisson had some words for Allen after the game while the teams exchanged handshakes. “I said, ‘What a legacy you leave behind,’ ” Brisson said. “She should be so proud of herself for what she accomplished in her time over there.”

Sachem East is looking to accomplish a lot with a team that has the talent to win a second county crown in three years.

Brisson was the head coach of Sachem for two years before the school split into two schools, Sachem East and Sachem North. He could just as easily be the Sachem North coach now, but he chose Sachem East.

“Every now and then I think to myself, ‘Which way should I have gone?’ ” Brisson said. “My momma raised no fool. I came the right way.”

Brisson credited his players for the team’s success. “Katie Doherty walks into the gym and Kathleen Everson walks into the gym, and all of a sudden I’m a pretty good coach,” he said.

What are Sachem East’s expectations?

“We want to win,” Doherty said. “We want to win as much as we can, and we’re going to go for it.”

Riverhead, which had lost 10 players from the team that reached the New York State final four last year, couldn’t feel too bad about its season.

In addition to Allen, Riverhead will lose Denise Brunskill, Naysha Trent and Jocelin Zaneski to graduation. The bulk of the team will be back next season, though, including two freshmen starters, Dezarae Brown and Sam Dunn. One can envision enhanced roles for Kim Ligon, Destiny McElroy and Kyra Braunskill.

“We lost 10 kids from last year, and we were one game from the [county] final four, so what can you say?” Spinella said. “This whole year has been a tremendous success. Our youth got so much extra time, extra games and so much more experience. Extra games and extra practices, all of that adds up in the long run.”