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Girls Basketball: Give Riverhead coach points for positivity

It doesn’t take much for Cherese Hinckson to erupt into a burst of applause, cheering and encouraging her Riverhead basketball players whenever they do something good on the court. It could be making a deflection, forcing a turnover by the other team, hustling for a loose ball or making a nice shot. It doesn’t matter. When they make a good play, they’ll hear it from their coach.

The power of positivity is palpable.

For Hinckson, in her first season coaching Riverhead, it’s as vital as Xs and Os.

“Celebrate the small things,” she said, “because if we constantly are negative about everything else, we will be very miserable, and that’s one thing about me is that I do not like to be around miserable people, nor do I like to be around negativity, so I’m going to stay positive and I want my team to stay positive.”

Mission accomplished.

With three games left in their season and four wins to their credit during this rebuilding phase, the Blue Waves look to be a happy lot, wearing smiles on their faces.

Reina Love, one of Riverhead’s eight seniors, started with Ryleigh Downs, Angelina Pace, Kelyn Banegas Lopez and Zyaire Hartfield. Love said Hinckson’s approach is making a difference.

“It helps a lot,” she said. “We stay positive. It keeps everybody in a good mood, keeps your head up. No matter how much we’re down, if we stay positive, that’s what makes our bond as a team stronger.”

And the mastermind behind it all, the energetic Hinckson, seems to be in constant motion on the sideline, walking up and down, clapping, giving direction, yelling encouragement to her players.

“Sometimes she’s more energetic than us,” Hartfield said. “She can’t stay still, but it helps us.”

One may have wondered if Hinckson’s positivity would be tested Tuesday when Riverhead was beaten soundly, 65-26, by visiting Longwood, the top team in League I and one of the best in Suffolk County.

Not a chance.

Afterward, she was upbeat, saying her team got 1% better. Her goal from the start of the season has been for Riverhead to make a 1% jump every game. Baby steps, but those 1% improvements add up.

Hartfield got an idea of what her new coach was like during summer workouts. “She was like energetic and hyper then like she is right now at games, so I knew over the season like she’s gonna be off the bench jumping, screaming and all of that,” she said.

Riverhead coach Cherese Hinckson, flanked by Andrea Allen (1) and Kelyn Banegas Lopez (24), likes the positive approach. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

This isn’t an easy undertaking for Hinckson. Riverhead didn’t play last season because of school budget cuts. The team has only two players who entered this season with prior varsity experience, Hartfield and Michaela Ligon. Ligon, who had been averaging close to 15 points per game, tore her right anterior cruciate ligament while attempting a layup in a 49-39 loss to Sachem North Jan. 21, putting an early end to her junior season. Tuesday’s game was Riverhead’s third game without Ligon, who watched from the bench with crutches.

What was Hinckson’s reaction to the loss of Ligon?

Stay positive.

“She’s my top scorer, top defender, top rebounder,” Hinckson said. “But again, in order for us to get better, we have to start relying on other people besides Michaela, and that’s what it forced us to do.”

Riverhead (4-11, 2-9) would have needed an awful lot of Michaela Ligons to counter Longwood (15-1, 12-0), winner of nine straight. No player matched Taydra Simpson, who brought Longwood 22 points, 11 steals, eight assists and seven rebounds. Another one of the 10 Lions to make it into the scoring column was Giselle Harris with 12 points.

Longwood dominated the boards, 42-26, forced 26 turnovers and shot 42.9% from the field to Riverhead’s 27.8%.

When the game ended, Hinckson, perhaps not surprisingly, applauded her players.

“It helps a lot,” said Hartfield, who led Riverhead with nine points. “Like, if she’s positive, we can expect the rest of the team to be positive. Like, she brings up the energy and we can feed off her energy that she brings to the team.”

All positive stuff. Just the way Hinckson likes it.