At 5-11, Kristina Dunn is taller than many of the high school players she competes against on the basketball court, and yet, Dunn knows what it’s like to play in someone’s shadow.
For years Dunn played in the shadow of her older sister, Sam Dunn, who just happened to be one of the best players Riverhead has produced. Currently, Sam is a junior playing for LIU Post. By the time Sam graduated high school in 2016, she had 1,016 career points and was the fifth Riverhead player to have reached the 1,000-point mark.
“Everyone wanted me to follow in her footsteps, but she was such a big footstep to follow,” Kristina, a senior forward for Riverhead, said. “I always felt obligated to be as good as she and she was a superstar.”
Kristina said she recalled being introduced, upon entering games as a substitute, as “Sam Dunn’s sister.”
Big shoes to fill, indeed, but Kristina has shown that she’s a pretty good player herself. Perhaps no better example of that was seen than on Wednesday when, displaying the sort of gutsy hustle her older sister is known for, Kristina led the Blue Waves to a 41-36 Suffolk County League II victory over Smithtown West at Riverhead High School.
Dunn turned in an all-around performance, and Riverhead (4-5, 2-3) needed every bit of it. Whenever the game seemed in danger of turning Smithtown West’s way, Dunn was there with a big basket, rebound or steal.
“She’s been awesome,” Riverhead coach Jackie Zilnicki said. “This was her best game of the year.”
It was a game that saw Dunn score a season-high 17 points as well as grab 16 rebounds. She had two assists, two steals and a block, to boot.
“Amazing,” teammate Angie Graziano said. “She always plays good, though.”
Dunn joined the varsity team as an eighth-grader and got to play two high school seasons with her older sister. She obviously learned some things along the way.
“She was kind of my inspiration,” Kristina said. “I always looked up to her.”
Sam would have been proud to see what her younger sister did Wednesday. Kristina was the difference-maker in a tight game that saw neither side lead by more than six points. The lead changed hands 10 times. The last time came when a Dunn layup made it 32-31 Riverhead early in the fourth quarter. An Ishanti Gumbs layup extended that lead to 34-31 moments later.
But Smithtown West (3-5, 0-4) managed to draw even at 34-34 on two free throws by Gabrianna Lorefice and another by Rebecca Farrell.
“We were on our toes the whole game,” Graziano said. “We were always there for each other.”
Dunn put Riverhead ahead for good, snapping the tie with a pair of free throws. Then she assisted on a nifty layup by Gumbs that made it 38-34 with 3 minutes, 18 seconds left.
A Lorefice layup cut that lead to two points before — guess who? — Dunn dropped a three-point shot for the game’s final points with 1:37 to go.
After Dunn, the next highest scorers for Riverhead were Christy Falisi with seven points and Katie Brown with six.
Points haven’t been easy to come by for Riverhead. “We’re not a high-scoring team, so we have to figure out ways to score,” Zilnicki said. “Defense has been our key the whole year.”
“We all need to learn how to work together more and just slow the ball down,” said Dunn.
Riverhead’s defense held Smithtown West to 26-percent shooting from the field. The Bulls hit only two of their last 13 field-goal attempts.
Lorefice led Smithtown West with 22 points. Taylor Mennella added eight.
Graziano, a senior, has played with both Dunns. Asked to compare their playing styles, she said: “They’re their own players. Kristina is making her own path.”
And, no longer in the shadows, shining in her own right.
Photo caption: Kristina Dunn pictured in a December game at Mattituck. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister/file)