BLUE WAVES 64, COLTS 33
As Sam Dunn put it, the Blue Waves had to take their lumps last year. On a team that featured three eighth-graders playing prominent minutes, some difficult stretches were expected.
But that was last year.
This year? Well, the eighth-graders are still only freshmen, but that extra year experience has proved to make a world of difference.
“This year, we knew it was going to be a lot better,” said Dunn, a junior forward in her third year on varsity.
By rolling past Half Hollow Hills West Thursday afternoon, 64-33, the Blue Waves locked up a spot in the postseason after a rare absence last season. Riverhead improved to 7-1 in League III and the Blue Waves have now won five of their last six as they hit the second half of the league schedule.
“It feels good to be back in the playoffs,” said Riverhead coach Dave Spinella.
The Blue Waves (8-4 overall) had three players in double figures against the Colts, a wire-to-wire win at Riverhead High School that saw the Blue Waves rest all their starters in the final quarter. The Blue Waves opened the second quarter on a 13-2 run to take a 17-point lead. Junior Dezarae Brown sank a short baseline jumper that put Riverhead ahead 29-12.
The Blue Waves kept on rolling through the third quarter.
Dunn scored a game-high 14 points. Senior Amanda Baron chipped in 10 off the bench and freshman guard Kate McCarney added 10 as well.
Dunn said the improved play of the young guards like McCarney and Faith Johnson-DeSilvia has been a big boost this year.
“Last year when we had the eighth-graders, it was all so new to them,” she said. “Since they were all guards and had to bring the ball up, a lot of the older guards kind of took advantage of that. So there was a lot of turnovers. Now they have more experience so they can handle pressure better.”
As an example, against Hills West (2-11, 1-8), the Blue Waves handled the ball well through three quarters, limiting themselves to eight turnovers. On the other end, they forced Hills West into 21 turnovers over that same stretch.
When Dunn came up to varsity in 2012-13, she was the newcomer playing behind veterans like Shanice Allen and Naysha Trent. Dunn looked up them as role models and wanted to play like them.
“That was kind of my motivation,” she said. “I knew as a freshman we weren’t going to be that team that just won the L.I. championship. But I knew coming in as a sophomore, I had to step up and lead the team. Now as a junior, I sort of feel like them. I kind of filled their shoes in a way.”
As the team’s top post presence on both ends of the court, Dunn has a unique perspective now to watch the younger girls she’s playing with develop.
They continue to impress her.
“Faith can see the floor amazingly,” Dunn said. “She give me a pass that I don’t even see.”
McCarney, she said, reminds her a bit of herself as a ninth grader.
“I was always really nervous,” Dunn said. “And she was nervous, but this year she’s kind of come out of her shell and she’s able to shoot more.”
The Blue Waves are in the midst of the final sprint to the playoffs now. Starting Saturday at West Islip, they’ll play six games in 13 days to close out the regular season. With only one loss so far, a league title looms as a possibility still.
Riverhead’s only loss came against Copiague. The Eagles are 8-0 in league. The Blue Waves led by five at halftime against the Eagles Jan. 13, but a rough third quarter turned the game.
Before the Blue Waves can get another crack at Copiague, they’ll still need to get past North Babylon and Smithtown West. Riverhead won the first two matchups against both those teams by single digits.
If there was one negative from Thursday’s win, it was free throw shooting. The Blue Waves shot 6 of 21 from the line for just 29 percent.
For now, though, the Blue Waves find themselves back in the familiar position of jostling for playoff positioning.
“Now we’re going to be competing for a banner, and competing for a home playoff game,” Dunn said.