Former coach returns in East Hampton; Westhampton welcomes back core players

Girls Basketball Preview, Part I

East Hampton is returning eight girls to its basketball team this season, and returning to lead the team is former coach Krista Brooks.

Although absent from the bench the last few seasons, Brooks, who spent eight years at the helm, is looking forward to injecting her knowledge as she builds up her new team.

“I decided to jump back into it — I wanted to return, I needed to — because we’re trying across the board to get girls a little more recognition in the district,” the coach said. “We’re looking forward to our first game, seeing how we fare, and taking each game as it comes, trying to adjust and do something better the second time we face these teams.”

League V got a makeover this year, with teams like Mt. Sinai and Shoreham-Wading River bumping up from League VI.

Of the eight returning players to the Bonackers, two are seniors. The team is in the process of picking captains and its starting five.

“I’m bringing different strategies, different drills,” Brooks said. “They’re learning a lot of different things. My practices are tough, task-oriented, and detailed. I’ve had some teams that did pretty well, coached a lot of good athletes, and I’m trying to bring the best out of these girls.”

Because the team is small both in the number of girls on the roster and in height, the coach said the Bonackers will rely on speed and drive.

While some teams are new to the league, others, like Sayville and Westhampton, will be returning, and bringing back top players.

Westhampton graduated four role-playing seniors, and return a core consisting of juniors Belle Smith (330 points), Layla Mendoza (217 points,) and Lindsay Rongo (95 points).

“Each of them is a dynamic player in a different sense,” head coach Katie Peters said. “Isabelle Smith is an all-around incredible athlete. She’s a spark for everyone else around her.”

The guard has been a primary scorer on the team the last three seasons, but her points wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for her teammates.

“She’s a very strong defensive player,” Peters said of Smith. “But the readability and passing ability of Mendoza and Rongo — she’s able to play off them.”

The Hurricanes also return Giana Murphy and Molly Skorobohaty, and add freshmen Olivia Rongo, Lindsay’s younger sister, and Molly McCarthy from East Moriches, whom Peters said she’s excited for.

“She really sees the floor,” the coach said of her new point guard. “She can shoot the ball, but she looks to make good passes first. She’s a true point guard. She’s going to fill a big pair of shoes, but in my opinion, she’s more than capable.”

Peters said she’ll do her due diligence in preparing a strategy for each new opponent, noting League VI title-winning and Suffolk County championship finalist Mt. Sinai (22-1), returning most of its players, will be a good test.

“Each day we want to win the moment, whether getting the timing down on a play or getting the little details down,” she said. “We’re hoping those little things will translate into bigger milestones.”

Hampton Bays and Southampton will be returning to the League VI list this season. The Baymen bid farewell to 1000-point scorer Mackenzie Tyler, a six-year varsity talent, but return juniors Rebecca Heaney and Pamela Grajales, and boast five new sophomores and five freshmen.

“I like their aggressiveness — they’ve taken to a motto that we’re young, but we’re always going to attack,” said head coach Darryl Johnson, who is new to the group but coached the team once back in 2000. “We run an active practice to get them in game mode every time they hit the court, and I think that will play well for us. We’ll also be rotating players out on a situational basis to keep everyone active and fresh. Instead of waiting for things to happen, we’re going to make things happen.”

Newcomers have excited the coach because he sees their eagerness to learn. He said he already sees improvement every day in practice, which is lively, as the team rotates different genres of music while practicing plays, to work on keeping out the noise during game time.

“We practice as the music plays as a tool so they can really focus on what they’re doing,” Johnson said. “We’re an underdog — we were 3-13 last year, had a couple of rough years — and we want to get back to the high-caliber play that Hampton Bays had in years past. Every day is a challenge, and we’re looking forward to that this year.”

Southampton also boasts two returnees in seniors Taylor Pike (172 points) and Arianna Dozier (32 points). While Johnson said his Hampton Bays girls don’t have any preconceived notions about other teams, Mariners head coach Juni Wingfield said that’s been his task this preseason.

“I want them to imagine they’re Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, Superwoman before anything else,” he said. “They need to get rid of self-imposed limitations like, ‘That girl is too big, that one is too fast, that one’s been here longer than me, has more experience.’ I have to get rid of the myths to be able to get them to perform at the highest level.”

He will be looking to freshmen Gabby Arnold and Maddison Taylor, players who he said have that “it” factor, especially with basketball being in Taylor’s DNA, as her father is a junior varsity coach.

“For me, good coaches are good teachers,” Wingfield said. “I’ve been approaching the game the same way for 30-some odd years — getting kids to adapt, teaching them the subject matter, teaching them to have self-discipline. More than leaning heavily on knowledge, I want them to give me imagination.”

Because offense can come and go, the coach said he’s been working on the defensive side of the ball.

“When talent doesn’t work hard, hard work wins,” Wingfield said. “Defense is the only constant — the only thing you can bring to every single game. What I know is, the girls will be prepared and tested to play hard every time they get on the floor, whether playing for two minutes or 32 minutes. And I’ll get them to play hard.”