Riverhead is slowly building a winner — and it all starts with defense.
Wins and the girls basketball team haven’t exactly been synonymous over the last few years as head coach Cherese Foster attempts to return the program to its glory days, when the squad was winning league championships under former coach David Spinella. Budget cuts and COVID 19 shutdowns left the team reeling, but with momentum returning to the program, the future is bright.
“It’s been a slow grind,” Foster said of the rebuilding effort. “But things have been looking up this year and I think this year’s success will set us up for years to come. When I got here I knew it wasn’t going to happen overnight but I believed in this program and it’s starting to pay off.”
After winning just one game last year, none during league play, Riverhead has finally found its focus: strong defense. The defensive intensity was on full display Saturday afternoon as the Blue Waves notched their fourth win of the season, 45-26 over Central Islip at Riverhead High School.
Over the course of the game, Riverhead (2-3 League I, 4-3 overall) forced 38 turnovers and held the Musketeers to just 17% shooting from the field. Logan Pilon and Adriana Martinez led the way defensively, snatching seven steals each.
“Defense has been a major point of emphasis in practice,” said Pilon, who also scored 15 points in the victory. “We have to get to every loose ball and cause turnovers because it gets us points at the other end. We have to be stronger and faster and that’s what’s going to set us apart.”
Before Christmas, Riverhead defeated a strong Brentwood squad by 15 points before matching up against first-place Ward Melville. And in a game that in years past would have never been close, the Blue Waves were only three points down going into the fourth quarter.
“The coaches at Ward Melville were shocked with how strong our defense was,” Foster said. “We’re starting to compete now. The goal this year was to compete, and, hey, the wins will come.”
The defense was so suffocating on Saturday, Central Islip didn’t even score a point until 5:18 left in the second quarter.
“Everything we practice on the defensive end always translates to the game,” Martinez said. “We always keep our hands up and close down any space for the ball handlers to move. And at the end of the day it’s all about communication.”
Pilon and Martinez have formed a 1-2 punch on the offensive attack. Both guards scored a team-high 15 points in the game against Central Islip. Their ability to work off each other and get inside the paint have been key factors in putting points on the board.
“Those two work so well with each other because they’re both super athletic,” Foster said. “They both just know how to be that athlete on the court at any given time. They know what it takes to win and they put their heart into it.”
“We’ve been playing basketball together since we were 11 years old,” Pilon said. “We boost each other up every time one of us scores. The best thing about our team is that nobody is selfish. We’re just trying to win the game regardless of who scores.”
Another welcome addition to the lineup has been Kyleigh Lennon. The sophomore was a rebounding machine on Saturday, hauling in 15 boards. She also got her hands in the passing lane and came away with four steals.
“Lennon is a huge piece to this puzzle,” Foster said. “In order for us to win, she has to continue to defend and crash the boards. She’s a big lacrosse player but I think she can be a great basketball player too.
“Defense, defense, defense,” Foster said of the team’s focus for the upcoming schedule. “Our defense will always be what ignites our offense. And honestly, I’m not afraid to say we’re the best defensive team in our league.”