Jackie Zilnicki steps in as the team’s third coach in three years. Graduation has taken away the familiar faces of Faith Johnson-DeSilvia, Kim Ligon and Kate McCarney.
With a fairly clean break from its past, Riverhead High School girls basketball opens a new chapter in its history.
“It is a new beginning,” said Zilnicki, who more than anyone else will write it.
Zilnicki, a former Riverhead player who herself who went on to play for Western Connecticut State University, was an assistant coach for the Blue Waves last season. She worked with Kenny Coard, who had taken over following Dave Spinella’s 14 seasons in charge of the Blue Waves.
Now it’s Zilnicki’s turn to run the show.
“I’ve learned a lot,” she said. “Now I’ve got to do it.”
Riverhead (15-7 last season) reached the Suffolk County Class AA quarterfinals last season before falling to Brentwood.
“We lost some good seniors last year,” Zilnicki said. “We had a good season last year. Now we’re looking to keep that going.”
Four seniors who saw a good deal of playing time will lead the way: guard Katie Brown, forward Kristina Dunn, forward/center Angie Graziano and forward Regan Montefusco. Another senior, Christy Falisi, missed the entire 2017-18 season with injury. Cece Khan, a junior guard, will be the catalyst on defense. “Her energy and her passion on defense, you can’t teach that,” said Zilnicki.
Sophomore forward Kendal Kwasna and junior guard Megan McIntosh were both pulled up to the varsity team for the playoffs.
Ishanti Gumbs, a junior point guard who transferred from Southampton, is new to the team along with forward Jordan Palmer and guards Kaleigh Seal, Tanaya Love and Aona Weston.
The key to the team’s success, Zilnicki said, will be “our energy on defense, getting the rebounds, boxing out. Our offense will start from our defense. We have to be hungry on defense, every possession.”
“Every season you want to make playoffs, but our goal every day is to get better, compete every game,” she continued. “We can make playoffs, but we’re in a tough league, so we have to show up every day.”
The learning curve is sharp for young players. They can improve a great deal over a relatively short period of time.
That’s an exciting prospect for Adam Lievre, who has the youngest Shoreham-Wading River team in his six years as the team’s coach.
The Wildcats (14-7) return three starters and five players with varsity experience. “The rest of them are playing their first high school games,” said Lievre.
SWR’s youth movement includes two freshmen, three eighth-graders — and a great deal of promise.
“They’re small, they’re inexperienced, but they’re special kids,” Lievre said. “They’re hard workers … They’re going to have a bright future.”
SWR, which lost to Kings Park in a Suffolk Class A quarterfinal last season, features a pair of All-League players in senior point guard Michele Corona and junior forward Abby Korzekwinski. Junior forward Hayden Lachenmeyer was a starter as well. The other two returners are both seniors, forward Melissa Marchese and guard Julia DeGoyler.
Two juniors, forward Gabby Meli and guard Megan Greene, are new to the team. And then come the youngsters: freshmen guards Alexa Constant and Carlie Cutinella and eighth-grade guards Sophie Costello, Annie Sheehan and Grace Ann Leonard.
“We are very, very young,” Lievre said. “Definitely, as expected, there’s going to be some growing pains.”
SWR, previously known as a running team, now looks to throw the ball down low. Lievre said the post game is SWR’s strength. He said Korzekwinski, who plays AAU ball year-round, will work down low with Lachenmeyer and Marchese. “We’re going to rely on our bigs and do a lot of damage with our posts,” he said. “The other kids are quick, fast and athletic.”
The starting lineup could be a fluid situation.
“Someone has got to start the first game,” Lievre said. “Will that remain? That’s a question mark. You’re pretty much looking at 1A and 1B at certain positions.”
Photo caption: Riverhead forward Kristina Dunn taking a shot during Tuesday’s practice. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)