Offseason work paying off for Riverhead girls

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.”

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