All a coach ever wants from his or her team is to play hard, even in difficult circumstances.
Winning, while nice, is secondary.
On Friday, the Riverhead High School girls basketball team played hard, but did not win in difficult circumstances.
Playing without three players and its starting point guard, the visiting Blue Waves went down to a 57-12 defeat to a superior team, Suffolk County League II leader Walt Whitman.
“They played hard, they played against a very well-coached, well-seasoned team,” Riverhead coach Lawrence Mandresh said. “Good for them. I said this to my team, and I think this is true: You learn from winning and you learn from losing. We’ll take things from this game into the next game.”
That sentiment was echoed by his players.
“I thought even though we were losing bad, we played as a team,” senior Megan McIntosh said. “This was the most together, even though the score wasn’t the positive or the best. We still played as a team. We never hung our heads or anything like that. We just kept positive the whole game.”
Sienna D’Albano, a junior, said, “Even if we’re down by much, you’ve got to put in 100 percent effort throughout the whole game and never give up.”
Even prior to the opening tip-off, the Blue Waves (5-9, 1-6) realized they could be in for a long night. Whitman (11-3, 7-0) had recorded a 60-28 win over Riverhead in its league opener on Dec. 13.
For Friday’s game, freshman point guard Michaela Ligon rolled her ankle and was unavailable. So were Ava Malanga and MacKenzie Dorr, who had previous commitments. Riverhead had nine players.
“When you’re down players who are supposed to be in the game, it’s hard to have continuity,” Mandresh said. “The other girls tried to step up and they were doing a good job.”
Losing Ligon was a major obstacle.
“She controls the game,” Mandresh said. “We have a few girls that can control the game. She’s a key cog, young, learning and you’ll miss her activity and her ability to slow the ball down, make a good move. Other people stepped up and tried.”
This was a tough one, although it started on an optimistic note for the visitors. The Blue Waves grabbed a 4-0 advantage in the opening 47 seconds on baskets by Zyaire Hartfield (team-high seven points) and Cece Khan. Then the Wildcats rattled off the next 34 points to go into the locker room with a 34-4 halftime lead. Dana McGowan scored all of her seven points during the opening quarter. Substitute Jenna Stockfeder led all scorers with eight points.
Riverhead committed 19 turnovers in the first half, several coming off Whitman’s press. Whitman also controlled the boards, getting second and sometimes third shots.
“Walt Whitman was very good at a lot of aspects of the game,” Mandresh said. “We had some difficulty getting the ball up court. Sometimes the shots fall. They really were minimizing our shot selection. We have to learn to get a good shot off.”
The Wildcats scored seven more unanswered points in the third quarter before Hartfield sank a trey with 3:21 remaining in the third period.
“It was a tough loss,” D’Albano said. “They’re the best in the league. We kind of knew that going in. This is the most together that we’ve been in a long time.”
That optimism seemed to buoy the Blue Waves afterwards.
“Lately, during practice, it feels there’s a disconnect between some of our teammates,” D’Albano said. “Today, it almost felt that we were a family for once. It felt really good.”
As Mandresh said, it has been a learning experience, and losing has given the Blue Waves some important life lessons.
“Just to always be positive in difficult situations because in life you’re going to come against difficult situations,” McIntosh said. “I feel like basketball especially, you have to persevere through the bad times.
“We might have some really bad games and we might have some really good games and still lose, but we learned to just stay together, to keep going, no matter what the score is, no matter how you play. Just to keep going. There’s always a positive.”