GIRLS BASKETBALL PREVIEW: Encouraged by athleticism, Spinella declines to look ahead, nonetheless

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Shaniece Allen of Riverhead averaged about 14 points per game for Riverhead last season.

Live for the moment, don’t take anything for granted, and try not to worry about the future.

That’s the approach Coach Dave Spinella has taken as his Riverhead High School girls basketball team prepares for the new season. “Any time you look ahead, that’s when you set yourself up for disappointment,” he said.

If things proceed as the Blue Waves (12-7 last season) hope, they will not be disappointed in 2010-11. Spinella, who is in his eighth season as Riverhead’s coach, said the team has the potential to be the best he has ever coached. “I just think that we have so many weapons offensively,” he said.

For one thing, Riverhead may have the best starting backcourt in Suffolk County in junior point guard Jalyn Brown and sophomore shooting guard Shaniece Allen. Both of them averaged about 14 points per game and were among the top 30 scorers in the county. Brown was an all-county selection.

But that’s not all you get with Riverhead. Don’t forget junior forward Melodee Riley and sophomore guard Cornaysha Trent. Riley, another returning starter, has great jumping ability, playing as if she has springs in her sneakers. Trent played starter minutes and was the League IV rookie of the year last season.

Aly Doscinski, a junior guard, is another returning veteran.

Want more? How about these newcomers?

Toni Ruisi, a 5-foot 10-inch junior, junior Alyssa Meyer and 5-10 sophomore Kaila Nazario, a transfer from Virginia, are forwards who have been doing a nice job in practice, said Spinella.

Two juniors have been promoted from the junior varsity team, guard Marta Czaplak and guard/forward Mariah Messina. In addition, Spinella has brought up two promising eighth-grade guards, Tajae Jackson and Katie McKillop. “There’s no pressure because they don’t have to do much,” Spinella said. “They don’t have to do much because there’s so much talent around them.”

All in all, it adds up to what Spinella said is by far the most athletic team he has had.

“We have athleticism right down to the 12th kid,” he said. “They can all run, they can all press. They have some physicality to them. It’s going to be someone different every night getting layups on the other end.”

Riverhead doesn’t have a single senior on the roster, which is in keeping with a pattern. The Blue Waves have been seniorless every other year since 2006.

But Riverhead has developed another pattern: reaching the playoffs. The Blue Waves have made it into the postseason five years in a row and six times in eight years.

The expectation remains the same even though Riverhead has been bumped up to League III from League IV along with the Copiague Eagles and the Smithtown West Bulls. Copiague and the North Babylon Bulldogs are regarded as the league favorites. What about Riverhead?

“We always get overlooked every year, but we’re O.K. with that,” Spinella said. “We’re just going to do our thing.”

The season is off and running, and so are the Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs (8-4 last season). Literally.

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Amy Boden of Bishop McGann-Mercy defended Southold's Catherine Bosco during a game last season.

The Monarchs, who opened their season yesterday with a non-league game in Southampton, can be expected to run more this season than they have in recent years. That ability gives the Monarchs a versatility that makes for a more dangerous team.

“We’re quick, but I have quick big girls who can get up the court, and that makes a difference,” McGann-Mercy Coach Jacki Paton said. “It makes the game more exciting. It makes it more fun for them because you can get more people involved.”

One of the players Paton will be counting on is Amy Boden, a 5-8 all-league senior forward who can make things easier for her teammates by drawing added defensive attention.

Balanced scoring can be expected from the Monarchs with four veteran juniors — Brieanne Bieber, Karlin McIntyre, Elizabeth Hartmann and Anna Crowley — doing their part. Those four are all guards except for Hartmann, a forward.

A pair of sister combinations have joined the squad: senior guard Katherine Gehring and sophomore guard Danielle Gehring, and twins Ashley Yakaboski and Emily Yakaboski, who are both junior guards. The team’s other new additions are 5-9 forward Mairead Glynn, guard Alyssa Mize, forward Shannon Nunez and forward Jacqueline Read.

All of the newcomers played for McGann-Mercy’s junior varsity team last season except for the Gehring sisters, who played for Our Lady of Mercy.

Paton said she likes what she has seen so far, and stated that the team is more well-rounded than the one that lost to the Southold Clippers in a Suffolk County Class C semifinal in February. The coach said the parity in League VIII should make for some good competition for her team.

“It’s going to be interesting how this year plays out,” she said. “It will come down to who can execute the little things the best.”

As Paton noted, basketball remains a basically simple game. The team that scores the most points wins.

She said, “Score over 40 points a game and hold the other team to less than 40.”

When Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats Coach Dennis Haughney looks out on the court at his team this year, he sees just that — a team. The Wildcats may not feature any star players that the offense will revolve around, but as a collective unit, they’re a group poised to make some noise once again in League VI.

“As a group we work very well together,” Haughney said. “They look for each other cutting, they’re very disciplined, very smart. They’re probably one of the smartest teams I’ve ever had and probably one of the hardest-working teams.”

The Wildcats lost their leading scorer in Sam Villafranca from last season’s team that went 14-4 in the regular season and lost in the Class A semifinals to the Harborfields Tornadoes. But they return an experienced group with strong guards and size in the middle.

The return of senior Corinne Wiederkehr at center provides a big boost on both ends in the middle. Wiederkehr suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament last season, wiping out her basketball season as well as her lacrosse season in the spring.

“We definitely missed her a lot,” Haughney said.

Senior Sarah Franck will run the point in the backcourt alongside Michelle Gostic at the shooting guard.

“Michelle was our Miss Clutch,” Haughney said. “At different games she drew fouls and hit her free throws.”

Meghan King will play the small forward with Cali Lavey at the power forward. Lavey is one of the top defensive players on the team and can also knock down a mid-range jumper.

Haughney said it is a different team this season compared to last, with more ball movement and patience on offense. The Wildcats liked to trap on defense last season to force turnovers and get out on the break. This season they will likely spend most time on defense packed into a 2-3 zone.

“We’re going to have to wear you, wear you, wear you over the course of a game,” Haughney said. “We’re not just going to do it in spurts.”

Where the Wildcats have an advantage is their depth. Haughney said the Wildcats can go as many as eight or nine deep in the rotation. Some of their key reserves include Alyssa Felming, Chelsea Hughes, Taylor Whiffen and Shannon Rosati.

Fleming brings versatility with the ability to play a small guard or big forward. At about 6-2, Hughes is the tallest player on the team. A freshman, Whiffen has a bright future and Rosati, also a freshman, is the fastest player on the team, Haughney said. Rosati has been out with a hamstring injury.

“I’m sure she’ll give us some minutes for some energy,” Haughney said.

The Wildcats will compete in League VI with the Elwood/John Glenn Knights and Amityville Warriors as the main competition. The defending champion Mount Sinai Mustangs lost their starting lineup to graduation and the Miller Place Panthers, with their deep returning team, were moved to League V.

Joe Werkmeister contributed to this story.

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