There weren’t many introductions needed on the first day of practice in Riverhead. Eight returning players, including the entire starting lineup, made for a quick start.
“For the most part we hit the ground running,” said Riverhead coach Dave Spinella.
If there’s an extra air of optimism in the Riverhead gym at the start of this season, it comes with good reason. The core of the Blue Waves’ team will begin its third season together. For a few of the veterans, it’s their fourth year together on varsity.
“The chemistry has been there all summer and working out in the fall,” Spinella said. “We just have to catch up some of the new kids and some of them have been really quick studies.”
The Blue Waves emerged as a formidable team last year, posting an 11-8 overall record in a season that ended with a two-point loss in the opening round of the playoffs against Kings Park. This year, the Blue Waves hope to take the next step and vault themselves into the conversation as one of the top teams in the county.
To do so, they’ll rely heavily on the frontcourt duo of seniors Sam Dunn and Dezarae Brown. Both players can dominate on the boards and intimidate defensively with their size. Dunn stands 5-foot-10 and Brown 6-foot-1.
In their season opener Thursday, a 52-45 win at Half Hollow Hills East, both players posted double-doubles. Dunn scored 16 points with 17 rebounds and Brown added 10 and 14.
Spinella said Dunn has improved her outside game.
“She’s become a legitimate shooter,” he said. “She can handle the ball to help with pressure. She’s really developed that outside portion of her game.”
Brown comes into the season off a tremendous summer league.
“She’s jumping out of the gym,” Spinella said. “She developed her little short jump shot. All the little things that we need.”
The trio of young guards all return for the Blue Waves: Kim Ligon, Faith Johnson-DeSilvia and Kate McCarney. They’re all sophomores with varsity experience. For Ligon, it’s her fourth year on varsity.
Johnson-DeSilvia will handle the bulk of the point guard duties, Spinella said. McCarney adds an outside shooting threat and Ligon can finish around the hoop.
An addition to this year’s team is junior Mary Reiter, who previously attended Bishop McGann-Mercy. Spinella said Reiter is a standout defensive player.
Freshman Angie Graziano “brings a lot of energy” and provides a three-point threat off the bench. Freshman Kristina Dunn, Sam’s sister, is returning for her second season on varsity.
“We can legitimately go nine deep, even 10,” Spinella said.
Copiague, last year’s League III champion, won’t be returning to the league this year along with Half Hollow Hills West. Smithtown East and Huntington will join the league. Huntington lost in the Class AA county finals last year, but graduated its top seven players.
The Blue Waves open the league season Dec. 15 at Newfield.
Photo Caption: Riverhead senior Sam Dunn returns at forward for the Blue Waves this season. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)
At Shoreham-Wading River, the Wildcats feature a deep team with “a lot of kids battling for playing time,” said coach Adam Lievre. Gone is the all-around star Courtney Clasen, a redshirt freshman at Coastal Carolina University.
“It’s different,” Lievre said. “I had her for three years.”
The Wildcats posted a 9-7 overall record last year and lost in the Class A quarterfinals to Comsewogue by three points. To get back into the postseason this year, the Wildcats will turn to a core of returning players taking on bigger roles.
Mackenzie Zajac, a year-round basketball player, will be a focal point of the team’s offense.
“We will definitely be running things for her,” Lievre said. “Her game has continued to improve.”
Zajac, a junior in her third year on varsity, will play one of the guard positions. The Wildcats will mostly play with three, or sometimes even four guards depending on matchups.
The trio of Mikayla Dwyer, Sam Higgins and Sophie Triandafils will fill those guard spots.
“They’re playing the one and two so they’re pretty much rotating those two positions,” Lievre said. “That’s kind of how I foresee us moving forward.”
All three are strong athletes who can play tough defense by forcing turnovers and getting the team out in transition, which has always been the Wildcats’ preferred method of scoring.
“They’re just relentless and their athleticism is so high,” Lievre said.
Dwyer led the team with 12 points in Shoreham’s non-league opener, a 33-32 win over Pierson/Bridgehampton on Dec. 2.
Junior Maria Smith will play forward and is expected to be one of the team’s top scorers in the paint. Smith is coming off a standout cross country season.
One thing Lievre didn’t have to worry about was conditioning.
“They probably get out of shape in basketball because they don’t run as much,” he said.
The Wildcats will face a challenging schedule in the league. Mount Sinai returns most of its team from last year; Hampton Bays features the dominant Alexis Fotopoulos, who recently became the school’s all-time leading scorer; and John Glenn is historically always a top team.
“We’re right there in between,” Lievre said.
Shoreham’s league schedule begins Dec. 8 at Miller Place.