SWR Wildcats girls hoops land No. 4 seed

After winning their first Suffolk County girls basketball championship in school history last year, SWR Wildcats needed to retool quickly if they wanted to compete for another title. The Wildcats graduated four starters from that championship team. The lone returning starter, Juliana Mahan, took it upon herself to lead the team back to the playoffs in her senior season.

Shoreham-Wading River had a rough start to the season as head coach Adam Lievre scheduled some of the best schools in higher divisions such as Division I’s William Floyd and Division II’s Commack. Those teams combined for a record of 39-1 over the course of the season. The Wildcats took their lumps early on and just proceeded to get better as a unit.

Playing in Division VI, the Wildcats finished the regular season with four consecutive wins, including a 59-16 victory over Southampton last Thursday. The only league losses the Wildcats suffered were against Mt. Sinai — the eventual division winner. 

The Wildcats’ 10-2 league record earned them the No. 4 seed in the Section XI Class A bracket — a far cry from their 20-0 and No. 1 seed from last year. 

“I thought we would be the three seed at the end of the season,” Lievre said. “We have the third best record and we’re tied with Sayville. And honestly we have more quality non-league wins.”

But the seeding committee thought otherwise and awarded Sayville the No. 3 seed. Shoreham-Wading River will start its defense of the Suffolk County title against No. 5 seed Islip on Friday. The game will take place at Shoreham-Wading River High School with game time slated for 5 p.m. 

“In order to win a playoff game you need to play well in all facets of the game,” Lievre said. “You have to play good defense, you have to take care of the ball and you have to make shots.”

The Wildcats will rely heavily on Mahan to make a bunch of those shots. The senior scored 22 points in the season finale against Southampton and has eclipsed the 30-point marker twice this season.

“It’s going to be a matter of coming in focused and ready to play,” Mahan said. “I’ll be watching film all week long trying to study my opponent. I won’t be leaving my computer much. I’ll do anything it takes to win.”

Islip finished League V with a 9-3 record but struggled in their non-league schedule, going 1-6 the rest of the way. They are led by Carley Mullins, who averages 12.9 points per game. Their only win against a team going to the playoffs was against Sayville in a 47-37 win on Jan. 24. Mullins scored a game-high 16 points in that game.

Mahan will need her partner in crime, Alyssa Bell, to also be a major contributor come playoff time. Though Bell didn’t start last year, she was the first off the bench and played important minutes. Bell has averaged 11.2 points per game this season but twice scored as many as 19 points. Grayce Kitchen, Haylie Abrams, Kady Keegan and Charlotte Erb also figure to be part of the puzzle of playoff success. 

With the week-long layoff, Lievre has scheduled scrimmages against Mattituck and Patchogue-Medford — two playoff teams in different classes. 

“We need to try to stay sharp,” Lievre said. “We’ll work on some new things in those scrimmages. Maybe I’ll pick up some things in film that I want to focus on but the main thing is to stay in good basketball form.”

Even as the No. 4 seed, Lievre says the title is wide open and there is no real team to beat like they were last year.

“One through five, there’s not much that separates the group,” he said. “It’s just going to come down to who makes the plays in the crucial moments. Nobody has that resume where you point to that team and say, ‘Well they’re the best.’ It’s truly anyone’s tournament.”