Before the postgame interview even began, Cece Khan apologized to the reporter for having to watch the game that was just played. A competitive basketball player, the Riverhead point guard takes losses to heart.
Khan had expected a competitive game. She believed Riverhead would pull out a win in its Suffolk County League II opener Friday.
Not only did that not happen, it wasn’t even close.
By the time the final buzzer sounded, 32 points separated Walt Whitman from Riverhead. That fact alone spoke volumes.
“It was an eye-opener,” Riverhead’s Megan McIntosh said after her team’s 60-28 thrashing on its home court. “No, I wasn’t expecting that.”
Where does one begin?
Well, the game began with an opening 11-0 run by Whitman, with Dana McGowan accounting for five of those points before a Khan free throw finally put Riverhead on the scoreboard 5 minutes, 42 seconds into the contest. Whitman extended its lead to 20-1 on a pair of Kate Hoffman jump shots early in the second quarter before Kendal Kwasna made Riverhead’s first field goal as part of a conventional three-point play 2:07 into the period.
By halftime the score was 27-10.
Much of the damage Whitman inflicted was on the offensive boards. Twenty of the Wildcats’ 29 rebounds came on the offensive end. Riverhead, by comparison, had four offensive rebounds.
“We prepared for this game prior to it,” Khan said. “You know, we went over every defense that they did, we knew the down screen was coming, but I think the offensive rebounds killed us, demolished us.”
Whitman’s pressure defense resulted in 18 steals and 27 Riverhead turnovers as the Blue Waves found themselves trapped in corners.
It was that kind of a game for the Blue Waves, whose overall record was levelled at 4-4.
“We came in ready, but then once they started pressing us and coming out shooting and hitting all their shots, we weren’t ready,” said McIntosh.
Whitman, winner of four of five games, had 10 players in its well-balanced scoring column. Mia Stampfel (10 points), 6-foot forward Jenna Stockfeder (nine points, eight rebounds), Gianna Conte (nine points) and Iris Hoffman (nine points) led the way.
Khan and Michaela Ligon led Riverhead with eight points each.
“I thought [Whitman] was small and quick, you know, so it was tough for our guards, and the big girl down low [Stockfeder] was giving us a lot of problems,” Riverhead assistant coach Pat Fabian said. “She’s a big, strong girl. She can finish from around the rim. We just got to do a better job.”
Riverhead was missing two unavailable players, Zyaire Hartfield and Victoria Leonardi. Hartfield is a regular starter. Regardless, it didn’t seem likely that their presence would have changed the outcome.
Khan, the only senior on the team aside from McIntosh, is the most experienced team member, including the new head coach, Lawrence Mandresh, and Fabian. Surrounded by younger players and new coaches, she is the sole remaining player from Riverhead’s last playoff team two seasons ago and wants desperately to return. “I really want to make playoffs,” she said. “That’s my goal. If we just go .500, that would make my dreams come true.”
Khan has put her work ethic where her mouth is. She said she has worked out all summer and fall in preparation for this season. “I’ve been working out [with] different trainers,” she said. “I’ve been putting in the work.”
McIntosh has known Khan since they were fifth-graders. “Cece, I think, is the best basketball player on this team and she brings everything to the court,” McIntosh said. “She brings hustle, she brings heart, and nothing goes by Cece. She will slam someone on the court. Nothing will go by Cece. She is phenomenal.”
Fabian spoke glowingly about Khan as well.
“She’s seen a lot of change,” he said. “She’s a really good kid, and she’s dealt with the change very well. Cece’s a leader. She works really, really hard. She’s all over the place on the court. She does a little bit of everything. We really lean on her to handle the ball and to score for us.
“She definitely wants to win. I thought you saw today on the court, she was aggressive, she was fighting for loose balls, playing defense really hard. I was proud of the way she played with her effort today.”
What was Fabian’s message to the team following the loss?
“Don’t hang your head,” he said. “We’ll keep working and we’ll get better. It’s the first league game. It’s not the end of the world.”
Photo caption: Cece Khan, who scored eight points for Riverhead, drives past Walt Whitman’s Mia Stampfel on her way to the basket. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)