Lawrence Mandresh appreciates the value of chemistry — both in the classroom and on the basketball court.
Mandresh was talking about the later Monday evening. Mandresh, an advanced placement chemistry teacher at Riverhead High School, is also the school’s new girls basketball coach. He knows chemistry is as much a part of the game as strategy and execution.
“You can’t play without it,” Mandresh said. “You can’t go out there as five individuals.”
Mandresh and his players know something else: There are no shortcuts to developing chemistry. Patience is required.
“We’re all trying to get our chemistry meshed together and it’s really good that we have these non-league games to work on that,” junior forward Jordan Palmer said after Riverhead’s 52-24 loss to visiting Central Islip. “It takes a lot of time. I think even last year with us on varsity, it took us a while, even though a lot of us played together. Last year was really the cutoff where certain girls didn’t play together, and we kind of lost that connection, but it’s slowly going to come back to us and we can feel it.”
In the meantime, patience please.
This is, after all, a largely new team. Cece Khan, Megan McIntosh, Kendal Kwasna, Kaleigh Seal and Palmer are the only returners from last season’s squad. Khan and McIntosh are the team’s sole seniors and Mandresh is the team’s third coach in three years. The starting point guard, freshman Michaela Ligon, is new to the team.
That’s a lot of change.
“I think the program has changed a lot with the fluctuation of coaches,” Khan said. “I think that does have a major affect on the players coming up through the program. This team is really young, so it’s like none of [the newcomers] really know the varsity experience. They don’t really know the varsity speed, the intensity … It’s like starting from scratch. You’re just rebuilding everything.”
And that takes time.
Riverhead (2-2) already has half as many wins as it totaled for the entire 2018-19 season. Mandresh believes that, regardless of the result, every game is a step forward for the Blue Waves.
“We’re a young team,” he said. “We’re going to take our lumps.”
That was the case Monday when Central Islip (2-0) broke open the game with a 16-0 run in the second quarter and 8-for-16 three-point shooting. Hannah Greene nailed three of those deep balls as part of her 10-point game.
Khan sank six straight free throws within a 37-second span for an early 8-5 lead. Zyaire Hartfield added a pair of baskets, making it 12-8 Riverhead through one quarter. The second of those buckets was a work of art. Hartfield skillfully dribbled the ball behind her back to avoid a defender before pulling up and sticking her shot.
The second quarter, though, belonged to Central Islip. A Jelisse Rivera free throw, a Rivera runner off the glass and a Genesis Mena layup preceded successive three-pointers by Samara Jaco, Greene and Anisah Smith. Then Rivera (13 points) laid the ball in for a 24-12 lead.
“They came out in the second quarter, they put it to us,” Mandresh said. “You could see our youth.”
Hartfield hit a three from straight on for Riverhead’s only points of the quarter.
“I think we kind of got down on ourselves early in the game,” said Palmer, who grabbed nine rebounds. “We weren’t really looking for outside shots, but I think we played defensively so strong with each other; we were all talking. But once they started hitting those outside shots, it kind of collapsed.”
Central Islip opened the third quarter with two treys by Greene and another by Samantha Jaco.
The Musketeers scored the last nine points of the game for the largest — and final — margin: 28 points.
Khan led Riverhead with nine points, shooting 7-for-9 from the foul line.
“Cece is, I believe, one of our best players,” Palmer said. “I love Cece. I love how she plays. She plays aggressively and she never gets her head down.”
Riverhead has defeated Hampton Bays and East Hampton, with its other loss coming to William Floyd.
Mandresh is assisted on the bench by Pat Fabian, “a phenomenal coach,” Mandresh said. “He’s an Xs and Os genius.”
Together they have their work cut out for them, as do their players.
“You learn from everything,” Mandresh said. “You learn as much from losing as you do from winning, probably more.
“We’re going to take away from this. You got to learn from your mistakes. If you don’t learn from your mistakes, you’re just going to make them again.”
That’s why chemistry lessons are so important.
Photo caption: Riverhead’s freshman point guard, Michaela Ligon, leads a charge down the court while Central Islip’s Samantha Jaco gives chase. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)