Girls Basketball Preview: Blue Waves return deep, talented team

ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead senior Melodee Riley was one of the top three scorers for the Blue Waves last year along with Jalyn Brown and Shaniece Allen.

A quick glance of the Riverhead girls basketball team’s schedule reveals the Blue Waves’ attitude this season: bring on the best.

For a team that didn’t lose any players to graduation after a 14-win season last year, the Blue Waves begin the 2011-12 season ready to challenge the best Suffolk County has to offer. They’ll get plenty of chances with scrimmages against Harborfields, Bellport and Sachem East, possibly the No. 1 or 2 team in the county. The non-league schedule features the likes of John Glenn (a perennial Class A power) Deer Park (a defending county champion), Southampton (a favorite in Class B this year) and Copiague (a playoff semifinalist last year).

And that’s all on top of a league schedule that features one of the top teams in the county in North Babylon.

“We really loaded up as much as we could with the stiffest competition we could fine,” said Riverhead coach Dave Spinella, who’s in his ninth year. “We’ve done everything we can to prepare ourselves for the best.”

The Blue Waves have plenty of firepower to contend with some of the top teams in the county.

Senior point guard Jalyn Brown leads a deep Riverhead team that features an array of versatile players who can all rotate in any number of positions on the court.

“It just allows our best players to be in a position to do what they do best,” Spinella said before practice Monday. “They’re not anchored by a label of guard, forward, center. Everybody has to be versatile.”

Brown, a two-time all-county player, is the driving force behind the Blue Waves’ up-tempo offense. The Blue Waves hope to play aggressive defense that will lead to points on the other end.

“We’re going to go as Jalyn goes,” Spinella said. “She’ll dictate our tempo.”

Brown has plenty of talent around her as well. Junior Shaniece Allen returns after an all-county season. She plays mostly guard and is the kind of player who leads by example, Spinella said.

Senior Melodee Riley had an all-league season last year and returns as mostly a forward.

The trio of Brown, Allen and Riley made up most of the scoring for Riverhead last year. One of the three players led the team in scoring in all but three games last year.

Spinella said the biggest improvement so far in the team this year has been the depth on the bench. Most of the girls who came off the bench last year were inexperienced.

“Between last year, the summer and the way we’re starting, I have no problem putting out seven, eight, nine. The depth has come a long way.”

That depth will come in handy after the Blue Waves lost junior Cornaysha Trent to a season-ending injury. Spinella said Trent, a guard, tore her ACL in September. Trent likely would have started for the Blue Waves this year if healthy.

Senior guard Marta Czaplak, who was usually the first player off the bench last year, will see an increased role this season as a starter. Jocelin Zaneski, a forward converted into a guard, has improved on her 3-point shooting and will be another key player. Kaila Nazario, who transferred from Virginia last year, is another returning forward along with guard Mariah Messina.

One of the few newcomers to the team is freshman Jessica Cheatom. Spinella said Cheatom is being groomed as the next point guard once Brown graduates.

Spinella said they’ve been working on adding some new wrinkles to the offense, a process that’s much easier with all returning players who have varsity experience.

“We’re experimenting with some new things that have been working out pretty well so far,” Spinella said.

The Blue Waves, who lost to Sachem East in the quarterfinals last year, will face stiff competition in the league from North Babylon. The teams played a couple thrillers last year with the Bulldogs prevailing both times. The second meeting went to double overtime before North Babylon won. Riverhead has made the playoffs six consecutive years and seven of the last nine.

The Blue Waves got their first live action Saturday when they scrimmaged Shoreham-Wading River.

“The chemistry is all there, so that’s good,” Spinella said. “We’ve had a lot of high energy practices so far.”

Riverhead opens its non-league schedule Dec. 7 at John Glenn.

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