Girls Basketball: Riverhead remembers championship season 10 years later

Has it really been 10 years? It felt more like 10 months.

No, no. It was 10 years ago, in March of 2012, when what was considered the greatest Riverhead girls basketball team of all time completed the greatest season in program history. The 2011-12 Blue Waves ran off a 23-game winning streak, earned a Long Island championship and captured the imagination of its town along the way. That ride took them all the way to Hudson Valley Community College in Troy for the New York State Class AA semifinals and a 67-49 loss to Penfield. Riverhead finished with a 23-2 record and enough happy memories to last a lifetime.

What goes through former Riverhead player Naysha Trent’s mind when she thinks back to those days?

“Greatness, fun, experience, how far we went. Everything,” she said. “It was just so fun. Like it’s something you’ll never forget.”

All those memories must have been triggered for Trent and three other former players from that 2011-12 team who participated in a game between the Bellport and Riverhead alumni teams Friday night at Riverhead High School.

Riverhead alumni captain Jalyn Brown and Trent were on that championship squad along with Marta Czaplak and Melodee Riley. All four were on the court Friday as the Riverhead alumni romped, 51-34, before a large crowd in its own gym.

Just like old times.

“So nostalgic,” Riley said afterward. “It just felt the same, you know, on the court. You could tell like Jalyn and everybody just know where you are on the court. Even though, you know, I missed most of my shots today — the ball felt like it was five pounds, but it was the best feeling just playing with everybody.”

Adding more spice to the event was the presence of Dave Spinella, who coached that championship team 10 years ago, back on the sideline. It was the first game he coached since retiring in 2017 after putting up a 161-101 record over 14 seasons. That was reason enough to sway Riley, who lives in Dallas, to make the trip to Riverhead to play in the game.

“It’s something you’ll never forget.”

Naysha Trent

Spinella had previously coached all 10 of Riverhead’s alumni players, including Dezarae Brown, Katie Brown, Tyisha Johnson, Faith Johnson-DeSilvia, Kelly Rambo and Mary Reiter.

The play may not have been up to the caliber of that 2011-12 team, but then again, the alumni team didn’t even have one practice for preparation. Regardless, Riverhead took the lead for good less than five minutes into the first 20-minute half, built a 31-13 halftime lead and never looked back. Johnson led Riverhead with 11 points while Riley had seven points and nine rebounds.

The late-arriving Arella Guirantes, who plays for the Los Angeles Sparks in the WNBA, caused a stir, entering the game with 2 minutes, 57 seconds left and scoring five points to help Bellport close the game with an 11-2 spurt.

Naysha Trent was one of four players from Riverhead’s Long Island championship team 10 years ago to play in Friday’s alumni game. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

Riverhead shot 46.7% from the floor to Bellport’s 26.5%.

“It was no surprise,” said Brown, who coaches the Suffolk County Community College women’s basketball team. “I knew we would come out rusty, but I know [we weren’t] getting beat on our home floor, either.”

Riverhead’s current coach, Cherese Hinckson, liked seeing the Blue Waves celebrate their past. “I just think this is big for the community and big for women’s basketball here in the community, big for the alumni here,” she said.

Trent was a junior on that championship team and wanted to see the seniors that year go out with a bang. “We wanted to make it memorable and we did,” she said.

To this day, Trent said, she still hears people talking about that magical season. “All the time,” she said. “Like people still have the cover of the newspaper that year. I even have it in my room on my wall. A lot of people still know me just because of playing basketball.”

Thinking back to that memorable season, Brown said: “The best Riverhead team to come out of Riverhead High School. I can’t believe it’s been 10 years. You just look back. I still look at the pictures that are hanging on my wall in my room and around the house and all the trophies and then every time I come here for a home game, I always have to walk past that trophy case just to see our names on the trophy, but I can’t believe 10 years go by fast.”

They sure do.