Wildcats get ready to defend county crown

The Shoreham-Wading River girls basketball team kicked off the season Monday afternoon on their home court, one year after securing the school’s first Suffolk County basketball championship. But with many of those players having graduated, and head coach Adam Lievre seemingly headed for retirement, the team went into this season with more questions than answers.

But before the school year started, Lievre committed to another season at the helm. His earlier decision to step down was based on wanting to watch his son, an eighth grader, play on SWR’s varsity boys basketball team. When Kevin Culhane, the boys varsity coach, finagled the schedule so that it didn’t conflict with the girls’ games, Lievre decided to come back for one more year.

It was a welcome sight to have Lievre man the sidelines once again. But the task of rebuilding a winner will certainly be daunting. With Sophie Costello, Grace-Ann Leonard, Annie Sheehan and Colleen Ohrtman all graduating, only Juliana Mahan remains from last season’s championship starting five. 

But Mahan too missed the Wildcats opening 50-29 non-league loss to William Floyd with a foot injury that occurred during the soccer season. In addition to her absence, Grayce Kitchen, a new member of the starting lineup, was also out due to a lacrosse commitment. Lievre was also expecting a breakout season from Anabel Keegan, but the sophomore tore her ACL, which ended her season. That meant the gaps that were left following last season’s run to the county crown were laid bare Monday afternoon.

Alyssa Bell, a major contributor off the bench last year, was the lone bright spot in the loss, netting 19 of the Wildcats’ 29 points.

“We did no summer league this year and we did no fall league either,” Lievre said. “So most of the girls are picking up a basketball for the first time this year. There were a lot of lacrosse conflicts that interfered with us bringing a whole team together so we’re definitely behind the eight ball.”

Those conflicts, along with the injuries, have continued, and the Wildcats have still yet to have a practice with every member present. 

“We had two girls out of practice one day and then four girls out of practice for two days,” Lievre said. “This is about as unprepared for a game as I’ve ever been. I did the math, we’re at a 60% attendance rate so far. So yeah, we’re definitely behind.”

The good news is that Mahan is scheduled to come back before their next non-league game against Cold Spring Harbor. It will be Mahan’s team this year so having her back on the court, even at 50%, will do wonders for this young squad that only counts two seniors.

“Last year was really the first time in my coaching career that I had a real big [player] in Mahan,” Lievre said. “I really felt comfortable giving her the ball in sets specifically designed to get the ball down low. She definitely benefited with the talent around her and this year she is going to be our focal point.”

Mahan’s role will be much different this year. The scoring load will fall on her shoulders. The senior had her moments last year and scored as many as 18 points twice over the course of the season. But the team will need her presence on the court not only as a scoring option but also to take control in sticky situations with her experience in big spots. 

“She’s our leader,” Lievre said. “We’re going to count on her to be that dominant force for us all season long.”

Though some questions have been answered, many remain. The good news is the Wildcats’ league season doesn’t start until Jan. 3. They’ll play a handful of non-leagues leading up to the opener and hopefully by then, the picture of what the reigning Suffolk County champions look like will start to get clearer.